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Mangroves

What is Mangroves ?
The mangrove flora of the world is represented by about 65 species. Since there is little confusion about the true mangroves and the mangrove associates, it is difficult to give the exact number of mangrove species in the world. If the vivipary and breathing roots were taken into consideration, there would be 55 species in the world (Chapman 1970). Most of the species are strongly represented in South East Asia and the Eastern coast of Africa.

The floral diversity of mangroves in India is great. The Indian mangroves are represented by approximately 59 species (inclusive of some mangrove associates) from 29 families. Of the 59 species, 34 species belonging to 21 families are present along the west coast. There are a few species of which are indigenous to the west coast, e.g., Sonneratia caseolaris, Sueda fruticosa, Urochondra setulosa etc. The East coast of India and the Andaman and Nicobar islands show a higher species diversity as well as unique distribution of mangrove flora. The east coast is represented by 48 species belonging to 32 genera.

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Ecological Importance
Mangrove trees are an indigenous species to tropical as-well-as subtropical regions with approximately 70 idenitified species worldwide. They are a major contributor to the littoral and marine environments. Mangrove trees are halophytes, plants that thrives in salty conditions. Mangroves have the ability to grow where no other tree can, thereby making significant contributions that benefit the coastal ecology. Their coverage of shorelines and wetlands provides many diverse species of birds, mammals, crustacea, and fish a unique, irreplaceable habitat. Mangroves preserve water quality and reduce pollution by filtering suspended material and assimilating dissolved nutrients.

The tree is the foundation in a complex marine food chain and the detrital food cycle. The detrital food cycle was discovered by two biologists from the University of Miami, Eric Heald & William Odum, in 1969. As mangrove leaves drop into tidal waters they are colonized within a few hours by marine fungi and bacteria that convert difficult to digest carbon compounds into nitrogen rich detritus material. The resulting pieces covered with microorganisms become food for the smallest animals such as worms, snails, shrimp, mollusks, mussels, barnacles, clams, oysters, and the larger commercially important striped mullet. These detritus eaters are food for carnivores including crabs and fish, subsequently birds and game fish follow the food chain, culminating with man. Many of these species, whose continued existence depends on thriving mangroves, are endangered or threatened. It has been estimated that 75% of the game fish and 90% of the commercial species in south Florida rely on the mangrove system. The value of red mangrove prop root habitat for a variety of fishes and invertebrates has been quantitatively documented. Data suggest that the prop root environment may be equally or more important to juveniles than are sea grass beds, on a comparable area basis. Discovery of the importance of mangroves in the marine food chain dramatically changed the respective governmental regulation of coastal land use and development.

The beneficial effects mangroves have on the marine ecology are summarized as follows :

  • Basis of a complex marine food chain.
  • Creation of breeding habitat.
  • Establishment of restrictive impounds that offer protection for maturing offspring.
  • Filtering and assimilating pollutants from upland run-off.
  • Stabilization of bottom sediments.
  • Water quality improvements.
  • Protection of shorelines from erosion.

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