If you’re not from Florida, you may wonder what is Sanibel’s “obsession” with protecting the mangrove trees that line our coast. “What’s so special about mangroves on Sanibel? They’re certainly not in danger of extinction!”
Sanibel Island likely would not exist without mangroves.
It’s true we have a plethora of mangroves on Sanibel and Captiva Island. I know they can seem like a hindrance, blocking our beautiful water views, however, mangroves are extremely important to the survival of our island’s delicate ecosystem. Therefore, I thought it would be good to shed some light on this plant that’s a true Florida native.
Image courtesy of thestar.com.my
Let’s start with Mangrove 101…
What’s a Mangrove?
Mangroves are tropical trees that grow in tidal areas along the coastline. They are unique in that they can survive in water that is 100x saltier than what most other plants can tolerate. Not to mention they are strong enough to handle the changing tides and storms that cross our coastline. That’s because they have long roots that are knotted and tangled together, forming a tough, protective barrier for the beaches and land.
Types of Mangroves
According to the American Museum of Natural History, there are 80 different “described species” of mangroves worldwide. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection names three species found in Florida: The red mangrove, black mangrove, and white mangrove species.
Tall Red Mangrove Trees – Image courtesy of phytoimages.edu
The red mangrove (rhizophora mangle), is the most well-known species that grows along the water’s edge, and is easily identified by its reddish-color roots that prop the tree up above water. The black mangrove (avicennia germinans), usually grows further upland than the red mangrove, with little finger-like sprouts protruding from the ground around the tree’s trunk. The white mangrove (laguncularia racemosa), takes roots at an even higher elevation, and can be identified by it’s light yellowish-green leaves and stem from the tree’s branches.
Mangroves are Critical to Sanibel Real Estate
Okay, so they are a coastal tree. So What? you may be asking. Mangroves are critical to our ecosystem, but they are also critical to your Real Estate on Sanibel Island. In fact, you can probably thank them for even having any real estate on Sanibel at all. You see, mangroves accumulate sediment with their root system. As they grow, more sand is trapped and the island can grow. Additionally, strong currents and waves can wash away bare shorelines, but mangroves help hold the island together during storms.
Below, I’ve listed some additional of the benefits mangroves bring to our islands.
Black Mangrove Tree – Image courtesy of flickr user dinilu
- Provide an ecosystem that cycles nutrients into the water, producing food for marine life
- Allow marine organisms to attach to it’s roots, stems and leaves, providing a safe habitat for living and reproducing
- Provide a shelter for fish and marine life to swim under, protecting them from sport fisherman and larger predators
- Serve as rookeries, or nesting areas for the large variety of beautiful coastal birds on Sanibel Island
- Create a protective barrier for the island’s beaches and land, protecting us from erosion and strong winds
- Filter water and help maintain water quality by trapping and cycling certain organic material and chemical elements
Red Mangrove – Image courtesy of joostvanuffelen.com
Downside of Mangroves
Mangroves can also…
- Grow tall and block your scenic water views
- The sediment around their roots can smell like rotten eggs during low tides (this is from natural decaying leaves and other organic matter in the mud)
- Provide a breeding ground for bugs and misquotes
… but that’s about it. Did I miss anything here?
As you can see, the benefits of the mangrove tree far outweigh the negatives. These native plants are so important to our islands in fact, that they are protected by law. Here’s what you need to know…
White Mangrove Tree – Image courtesy of flickr user wan_hong
Laws Surrounding Mangroves on Sanibel
The State of Florida has delegated authority to the City of Sanibel to regulate the trimming of mangrove trees on the island. An inspection by the City of Sanibel’s Natural Resources staff is Always Required prior to trimming any mangroves on the island.
It’s important to note the mangroves over 10’ in height must be trimmed by a Professional Mangrove Trimmer that holds a special license to do so. You can read more about the Mangrove Trimming and Protection Act on the City of Sanibel’s website here, as well as find a list of professional mangrove trimmers, licensed to do the job.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns about the native plants of Sanibel, feel free to reach out to us! We have lived on the islands for nearly 10 years now, and have experienced every nuance and benefit the area has to offer!