When on your tropic flight in Belize, if you look below you are bound to spot the Mangroves that make up much of the coast and the Cayes of our country. Mangroves are amazing trees. They are important to our eco – system in so many ways. They protect coastal areas from erosion, storm surge (especially during hurricanes) and tsunamis. Their massive root system is efficient at dissipating wave action and they slow down tidal water enough that its sediment is deposited as the tide comes in, leaving all except fine particles when the tides ebbs. In this way mangroves build their own environment, increasing land mass from mangrove swamp into low laying land. They spread by emitting aerial roots which fasten in the salty mud and eventually become new stems. This intricate root system makes these “forests” particularly attractive to fish as they act as feeding and nursery grounds to approximately 74 species of fish here in Belize. They also provide feeding and habitat to many of the birds, reptiles and mammals that you may see on your vacation.
Four species of Mangrove grow here. The red mangrove is most often found along the water on the cayes and waterways and is easily identified by the long sprawling roots that support it. The black mangrove is usually found farther away from the waters edge and the white mangrove and buttonwood are generally located even further away. Mangroves have many other uses. They are melliferous meaning that a nectar can be taken from the flower by the bee to make honey. The bark can be used as a source of tannins and dyes and the wood is durable and water resistant and was used in the past to make houses and boats. The fruits and leaves can be eaten and drunk as a medicinal tea.
Unfortunately, with development of Belize, comes destruction of our mangroves and in many places swathes of these trees have been leveled to the ground to give way to new hotels and housing.
However, all is not lost, the government of Belize has recognized the importance of these trees and provides for their protection by requiring a permit for any alteration involving them. For those who want to protect their property, or just care about the environment, they can also be re-planted fairly easily, by placing a mangrove propagule inside a 1” by 12” plastic pipe and ‘planting” this in the water about 3 inches into the seabed. This protects the plant from being washed away. It does however take several years for them to grow to the sizeable trees. Whilst the mighty Mahogany is recognized for its importance in the economic development of Belize as shown by its appearance on our currency and as one of our National symbols, let us not forget that without the existence of the humble yet magnificent Mangrove the country of Belize may not exist at all.