Mangroves are trees that are adapted to live in areas that are often flooded by water, places called wetlands. In these areas there are three types of mangroves: red, black and white that live in saltwater wetlands. Each has a different tolerance for the amount of salt and water they can live in.
The beginning of life for all of the reef creatures starts in the estuaries and mangroves. During storms and periods of high winds and waves, mangroves, with their entanglement of roots, provide shoreline stabilization and a haven for animal life, which use the mangroves to nest and feed. Many of the outer islands in Belize have had their mangroves removed for development and as a result have lost their shorelines. Long Caye understands the importance and function of the mangroves and will continue to preserve them.
Mangroves are able to filter pollutants and chemicals while trapping debris, silt and sediments. This protects water clarity and quality and prevents delicate coral and seagrass communities from being suffocated. Mangroves also recharge underground water supplies by collecting rainwater and slowly releasing it.
Captures Carbon Mangroves are expert carbon scrubbers. Mangroves are able to pack away carbon faster than many terrestrial forests. Each year it is estimated that mangrove forests hoard 42 million tons of carbon, this is equivalent to the emissions created by 25 million cars.
Mangroves are often called land formers. They not only help in preventing soil erosion but act as a catalyst in reclaiming land from seas. As the mangroves continue to grow out expanding the shoreline, other terrestrial plants are able to colonize the land behind.
Mangroves shed about 7 ½ tons of litter per acre per year. The detritus is quickly broken down by bacteria and fungi and released into the water. This provides a rich source of food and nutrients for other nearby marine ecosystems and sea life.
Mangrove forests offer vital protection and habitat for an abundant array of marine and terrestrial species. They are an important nursery and feeding ground for most coral reef fish and invertebrates species. Many birds, amphibians and reptiles also use mangroves for protection while nesting and feeding.
In the Mesoamerican barrier reef there are as many as 25 more fish living in and near to mangroves than there are when mangrove communities have been removed via deforestation. This makes mangrove forests vitally important to coral reef populations and subsequently commercial fishing.
The fringing network on Mangroves buffers between land and sea. They protect from natural forces such as hurricanes, winds, waves, tidal change and run-off be preventing soil loss with a firm, flexible barrier. Areas where mangrove populations have been removed suffer much severer damage.
Mangroves can be responsibly harvested. Many rural communities use their durable water-resistant wood to build houses, boats, pilings and furniture. Tannins and other dyes are extracted from the bark for textiles. Leaves are used for tea, medicine, livestock feed and a tobacco substitute for smoking.
The Red Mangrove, Rhizophora mangle, is characterized by aerial roots and prop roots which provide support and stabilization. They live primarily in subtidal areas. Their roots have adapted the ability to exclude salts and preform reverse osmosis. Their leaves are dark green and shiny. They have propagating fruit called “pencils” that sometimes float great distances allowing Red Mangrove to colonize other areas.
The White Mangrove, Laguncularia racemose, grow on elevated grounds above the high-tide mark. Their leaves are thick and succulent, rounded at both ends, and the same color on both sides. Their root system resembles that of most terrestrial trees and seldom show breathing roots. White Mangrove have adapted to living in wet, salty soils by excreting excess salt through pores at the base of each leaf.
Black Mangrove, Avicenia germinans, occur directly inland from the Red Mangrove. They have small pencil-like vertical root shots call pneumatephores. These roots enabling the Mangrove to obtain oxygens directly from the air almost like “snorkels”. Their leaves are long and narrow and covered with salt crystals underneath. This is how they have adapted to living in salty soils and ridding themselves of excess salt.
The shoreline of Long Caye have long provided nesting areas for Loggerhead, Hawksbill and Green sea turtles. For centuries, they have returned to lay their eggs. All three species of turtle are endangered. Of the three, the Hawksbill is the only one that is legally protected, the other two species are legally hunted during season. These turtles and their eggs are considered a delicacy, and their shells are used as jewelry and ornaments. On Long Caye we have provided a 66 foot beach setback for nesting sites to protect these important species.
Nest sites must be carefully chosen, if they are flooded by tides the eggs will “drown” in the salt water. Obstructions such as seawalls may cause the turtle to select an unfavorable nesting site; beach erosion can also destroy nests. Another hazard to turtle eggs and hatchlings is normal beach traffic – people and beach- cleaning equipment. Such traffic may crush the eggs in the nest or compact the sand so the hatchlings cannot emerge.
When the eggs hatch, the journey from the nest to the sea can be hazardous. Crabs and birds stand by to feed on the young turtles and, once in the water, various fishes await the vulnerable young prey. The mortality rate of juveniles at sea is undoubtedly high for they are food for a wide variety of fish. It has been estimated that of the 100 eggs originally deposited in a nest, perhaps only one or two will survive to maturity.
Hatching occurs over two days. The young sense the heat of the surface sand and lie quietly until the temperature cools, usually leave the nest at night or on a cloudy day after a rain. Sea Turtle Hatchlings head for the sea under natural conditions, the light reflected from the surf being a beacon they readily follow. Beachfront development has flooded the coastline with unnatural illumination. This can disorient the hatchlings. They become tangled in vegetation, lost among the dunes or in peril on the highways. Most die from desiccation.
To help protect sea turtles, there are several things we can do, besides participating with a permitted group.
The Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Caretta caretta, are named from their massive, block-like head and broad, short neck. They are the only turtle in the genus Caretta and are listed as a threatened species. International trade is completely banned and the turtle is considered to be vulnerable worldwide.
Loggerhead turtles are the most frequently observed turtles in Caribbean waters. They are one of the largest of the hard-shell turtles, with adults measuring 36 to 38 inches in length, and a weight range of 200 to 350 pounds, but larger specimens have been reported. The upper shell or carapace is widest near the front, just behind the front flippers and then tapers toward the rear. It is colored reddish-brown with some yellow, underneath, the plastron is creamy yellow. The carapace has five pairs of costal shields or plates on each side of the central row of plates. The shell margin of young loggerheads has a somewhat serrated appearance, which disappears as the turtle matures. The limbs are paddle-shaped and each has two claws. As with all sea turtles, the adult male has a longer tail than the female.
The Hawksbill Sea Turtle, Eretmochelys imbricate, has a hooked, beak-like jaws that give it its common name. The scientific name, Eretmochplys, means “oar turtle,” based on the way it swims, and the specific name, imbricata, means “overlapping” because the shields on the carapace overlap like tiles on a roof.
Hawksbills usually range from 30 to 36 inches in length and weigh 100 to 200 pounds. The record is 280 pounds. The thin shields overlaying the bones of the carapace, also known as “tortoise shell,” are beautifully marked with amber and reddish tones with shadings to yellow, white, black and green. The plastron is whitish-yellow, occasionally with a few black splotches. The young tend to be black to brownish-black, with touches of light brown. The body has an elongated oval shape; the head is quite narrow. As with green turtles, there are four pairs of costal shields on each side of the central plates on the carapace. The shields overlap, with the exposed edges rough and serrated. The limbs usually bear two claws.
Green Sea Turtles, Chelonia mydas, are named for their greenish skin color. There are two types the Atlantic and the Eastern Pacific. Each type has an expansive range, the Atlantic can be found from the North Atlantic and Europe, to the Carribean while the Eastern Pacific is found from Alaska to Chile. These turtles are listed as endangered. However, globally they are still hunted for their meat and eggs.
Green sea turtles among the largest in the world and can live over 80 years. Individuals have been recorded with a carapace measuring over 60 inches and weighing up to 700 pounds. They have a proportionally small, non-retractable head that extends from a heart-shaped, wide and smooth carapace. Their streamlined build and paddle like flippers allow them to reach speeds of 35 mph. They have green skin and their carapace ranges from deep brown to olive depending on habitat while their under shell, or plastron, is yellow. Males are often larger than females and can be identified by their longer tails.
The mention of coral reefs generally brings to mind warm climates, colorful fish and clear waters. However, the reef itself is actually a component of a larger ecosystem. The coral community includes a collection of biological communities, representing one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. For this reason, coral reefs often are referred to as the “rainforests of the oceans.”
Corals themselves are tiny animals, which belong to the group cnidaria (the “c” is silent). Other cnidarians include hydras, jellyfish and sea anemones. Corals are sessile animals, meaning they are not mobile but stay fixed in one place. They feed by reaching out with tentacles to catch prey such as small fish and planktonic animals.
Corals live in colonies consisting of many individuals, each of which is called a polyp. They secrete a hard calcium carbonate skeleton, which serves as a uniform base or substrate for the colony. The skeleton also provides protection, as the polyps can contract into the structure if predators approach. It is these hard skeletal structures that build up coral reefs over time. The calcium carbonate is secreted at the base of the polyps, so the living coral colony occurs at the surface of the skeletal structure, completely covering it. Calcium carbonate is continuously deposited by the living colony, adding to the size of the structure. Growth of these structures varies greatly, depending on the species of coral and environmental conditions– ranging from 0.3 to 10 centimeters per year. Different species of coral build structures of various sizes and shapes (“brain corals,” “fan corals,” etc.), creating amazing diversity and complexity in the coral reef ecosystem. Various coral species tend to be segregated into characteristic zones on a reef, separated out by competition with other species and by environmental conditions.
Virtually all reef-dwelling corals have a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship with algae called zooxanthellae. The plant-like algae live inside the coral polyps and perform photosynthesis, producing food, which is shared with the coral. In exchange the coral provides the algae with protection and access to light, which is necessary for photosynthesis. The zooxanthellae also lend their color to their coral symbionts. Coral bleaching occurs when corals lose their zooxanthellae, exposing the white calcium carbonate skeletons of the coral colony. There are a number of stresses or environmental changes that may cause bleaching including disease, excess shade, increased levels of ultraviolet radiation, sedimentation, pollution, salinity changes, and increased temperatures.
Because the zooxanthellae depend on light for photosynthesis, reef building corals are found in shallow, clear water where light can penetrate down to the coral polyps. Reef building coral communities also require tropical or sub-tropical temperatures, and exist globally in a band 30 degrees north to 30 degrees south of the equator.
If customers can’t find it, it doesn’t exist. Clearly list and describe the services you offer. Also, be sure to showcase a premium service. Coral reefs and their associated communities of seagrasses, mangroves and mudflats are sensitive indicators of water quality and the ecological integrity of the ecosystem. They tolerate relatively narrow ranges of temperature, salinity, water clarity, and other chemical and water quality characteristics. Reefs thus are excellent sentinels of the quality of their environment. Proper monitoring of reefs can identify changes in water quality or impacts from land-based activities. Monitoring changes in water quality can help local resource managers understand the implications of actions occurring in watersheds that are associated with particular coral communities. These connections will help in development of sound management plans for coral reefs and other coastal and marine resources.
Coral reefs provide habitats for a large variety of organisms. These organisms rely on corals as a source of food and shelter. Besides the corals themselves and their symbiotic algae, other creatures that call coral reefs home include various sponges; mollusks such as sea slugs, nudibranchs, oysters and clams; crustaceans like crabs and shrimp; many kinds of sea worms; echinoderms like star fish and sea urchins; other cnidarians such as jellyfish and sea anemones; various types of fungi; sea turtles; and many species of fish.
Man has had a long association with reefs. They are important fishery and nursery areas, and more recently have proved to be very important economically as tourist attractions. Reefs provide protection from erosion to coastlines and sand for beaches. However, reefs located near coastal populations are showing increasing signs of stress and are not faring as well as reefs, which are more distant from centers of human population.
There are two types of stresses associated with reef systems: natural and human-induced. The effects of these stresses can range from negligible to catastrophic. Reefs display a surprising adaptation to short-term natural catastrophic events, such as hurricanes, and usually recover to normal community structure. These natural events can even be considered beneficial in regards to biological diversity. Severe storm events on land can topple large trees. This opens up the forest to re-colonization and results in a greater diversity of plants. This same process occurs with storm impacts to reefs. The damaged area of the reef is often re-colonized by a greater diversity of organisms than existed before the storm. In the long term this event benefits the ecological integrity of the reef.
However, reefs are not well adapted to survive exposure to long-term stress. Some examples include agricultural and industrial runoff, increased sedimentation from land clearing, human sewage and toxic discharges.In the Florida Keys, reef growth results from topographical controls that shield corals from the waters of Florida Bay. Florida Bay, although large, is also shallow and has restricted flow. This causes the waters to fluctuate in water quality characteristics which are important for reef growth. Florida Bay waters can vary widely in salinities and become turbid from transport of sediments. Bay water temperatures can also fall above or below those temperatures preferred by corals. Reefs thrive best in the shadow of the islands. These islands effectively form a barrier from direct exposure to the restricted waters of Florida Bay. The shelf areas between islands or at wide passes only support poor coral populations.
Many land-based activities have important implications for reefs. Agricultural activities can introduce herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and runoff from animal feed lots. Sewage discharges can introduce nitrogen and phosphate compounds along with pathogens and mixtures of toxins. Uncontrolled land clearing can result in erosion, with the resultant increase in sediment loads to surface waters. Roadways, parking lots and buildings consist of impervious surfaces. These surfaces increase runoff rates and carry with those waters mixtures of dissolved substances to surface waters. The surface waters in any watershed eventually discharge into coastal or near-coastal waters. These waters can then impact coral communities associated with these discharge points. Thus, activities occurring in distant locations have impacts to reefs, which are far away from these activities.
There have been increasing efforts to establish better management and conservation measures to protect the diversity of these biologically rich areas. Management practices have historically focused on the coral reef proper and not considered associated communities, such as seagrasses, mangroves and mudflats or defined watersheds (which transport complex mixtures in their waters), in a meaningful manner. This attempted to manage the reef in isolation, like an island.
When reefs are considered as part of a larger watershed, the recognization of the complexity of environmental stressors can be understood. Management plans can be developed to lessen impacts to mangroves, seagrasses and the reef ecosystem, based upon scientific data and a better understanding of the system.
Fringing reefs, the most common type, project seaward directly from the shores of islands or continents. They are separated from the shore by narrow, shallow lagoons.
Barrier reefs are platforms separated from the adjacent land by a bay or lagoon. The longest barrier reefs occur off the coasts of Belize and Australia.
Atolls rest on the tops of submerged mountains or volcanoes. They are usually circular or oval with a central lagoon. Parts of the atoll may emerge as islands.
Birdwatching is amazing on Long Caye. Belize is home to some 500+ species of resident and migratory birds. With varied ecosystems ranging from coastal mangroves and swamps; to isolated barrier-reef cayes; to dense tropical rainforest and clear, open savannahs, Belize is a wonderful destination for avid bird-watchers and amateurs alike.
For tropical migratory birds, the island serves as an essential rest stop during the long flights north and south. As more and more habitats around the world are stressed or lost, our preservation ethos on Long Caye plays an increasingly important role in this seasonal migration. We are beginning a “Community Bird Journal” on Long Caye, so if you can add to this list after a visit, please let us know your sitings.
Half Moon Caye, a Belize National Park, is just 3 miles away from Long Caye within the Lighthouse Reef Atoll. This isolated wildlife and marine reserve is a major nesting site for the red-footed booby. Thousands of these birds can be spotted on the island at any one time, an amazing sight. In addition, you ca also spot a wide range of resident and migratory sea birds here. Being so remote, it’s like we have our own “private” National Park!
Long Caye at Lighthouse Reef
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