Mangrove Magic

As the effects of climate change continue to unfold, mangrove trees have become Earth’s heroes. Not only are they environmentally beneficial, they provide us with hours of fun observing life in the mud and roots.

Found in tropical and sub-tropical tidal ecosystems, mangrove trees have long, woody roots that live and proliferate in salt water.

In earlier centuries, mangroves were often removed to develop coastal land, but fortunately that is changing. As people discover the benefits of mangroves, there has been a steady increase in many countries to restore them.

In addition to providing a habitat for wildlife, these trees and shrubs have been found to filter sediments and reduce erosion. The list of environmental benefits is long.

More importantly, especially now as coastal storms increase, mangrove roots protect against the brunt of wave action during storms and cyclones; and are carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

A NASA study declared mangrove forests to be “among the planet’s best carbon scrubbers.”

More info: Wikipedia Mangrove

Belize, a small country on the northeastern Central American coast, has been a world leader in revitalizing mangrove habitat.

This agami heron in Belize’s mangroves is happy about that.

Significant mangrove swamps, or mangal, occur in parts of Mexico, one being the San Blas habitat, where this white ibis was photographed.

Other mangrove forests in the New World include South and Central America.

On a boat trip to see scarlet ibis in Trinidad, we cruised through this mangrove swamp.

I got a little nervous when I spotted coiled boa snakes in the mangroves above us, but the guide simply shrugged.

In the U.S., mangroves grow along the coast of Florida, primarily in the south, and the Key West islands. Louisiana and South Texas also have mangrove forests.

We came upon this flock of mixed waders under a mangrove in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, in southwest Florida. Here they have three species of mangrove: red, white, and black. Notice the mangrove roots beneath the leaves on the right side.

Floating in an inflatable zodiac boat in the Galapagos Islands, we found this trio of penguins peering out from under the mangroves.

In the eastern hemisphere there are even more mangrove forests, in Southeast Asia and many other countries (map at end). Indonesia has over 9 million hectares of mangrove forests. India boasts 46 mangrove species, representing about 57% of the world’s mangrove species.

Australia also has an extensive ecosystem of mangroves and salt marshes. In recent years Australia has suffered mangrove habitat loss, and many research projects are now devoted to uncovering the reason and protecting the habitat.

This mangrove wetland in Kakadu National Park in northern Australia includes ducks and other waders…

and the ubiquitous crocodiles.

I especially liked watching the jacanas, because their feet distribute their weight to effortlessly walk atop lily pads. This photo highlights the bird’s long right toe digits.

We found many of these large-leafed lilies in the mangrove swamps of Kakadu.

Even in the bustling Australian city of Cairns, the fifth largest city in Queensland, there were miles of coastal mangroves and mudflats. While other people were frolicking in the swimming area or relaxed on a bench under a palm, Athena and I were absolutely enthralled with all the mud creatures in the mangroves. Crabs, fish, mudskippers and more.

This spoonbill was busy catching fish in its large spatulate bill.

Ahhh, mangroves. They thrive in salt water, soak up carbon dioxide, soften the blow of a tropical storm, and stabilize the coast. And on top of all that, they provide food and protection for numerous wildlife all over the world. No wonder I love to cruise through these swamps.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Mangrove Distribution. Courtesy Wikipedia.

84 thoughts on “Mangrove Magic

  1. Proving once again that swampy places should not be paved and turned into parking lots. I went through once of these mangrove swamps in Baja and was amazed at the bird life (and the insects). Swamps and marshes are so full of life!

    • Your ability to sympathize with the critters and understand the safety the mangroves provide is a pleasure for me to see, Eliza. And you’re spot-on with what I was thinking about the jacana’s toes; in fact I wrote that in an earlier draft and then took it out. A gardener who sees toes that look like plant roots, I like it. Cheers to you, my friend, and many thanks.

  2. A really super duper post this week. Mangrove swamps have always intrigued me and I have to say at times scared me a little. There can be something very spooky about them and in your segment which showed the snake curled in the tree and then the crocodile, my imagination ran wild!:)

    I absolutely love the photograph of the Agami Heron is absolutely stunning…

    Thank you Jet and here’s hoping you enjoy a lovely smoke free weekend. Janet X

    • Oh how wonderful to receive your message, Janet, thank you. I never realized how many mangrove swamps we’ve visited until I started this post, and there is a spookiness to them, admittedly. For me that’s part of the mystery and intrigue. Glad you liked the agami heron photo. That was an acrobatic event for all of us in the boat, because we all had to hit the floor as the boat quietly edged into the mangrove roots narrowly missing our heads. Thanks ever so much for your visit, Janet, great to “see” you today.

    • There were several of those boas and it was definitely disconcerting. And the guide, who was not the most communicative person in the world, wasn’t even phased by it. Great comment, gave me a smile, and so did the funny emoji. Thank you, Val.

    • We are so lucky in the U.S. to have the Everglades, and it has not been easy with Florida and development. I’m glad you’ve had the pleasure of Florida’s mangroves, Donna. I liked your comment, thank you.

  3. Beautiful photos. That Agami Heron is a beautiful blue. The Cook’s tree boa reminded me that I had a rainbow tree boa years ago. It had been confiscated in a drug raid.

    • Glad you enjoyed the agami heron, Timothy, it is a beautiful blue. They are super shy and rarely seen, so we were thrilled to have had a chance to see it. We never saw another. Interesting that you had a rainbow tree boa. When we were in the Amazon part of our group saw one in the wild and took photos (I didn’t see it), and it was incredibly beautiful with the rainbow colors. Big. Funny that yours was confiscated in a drug raid. Hard to make a story like that up, proving how funny real life can be. Many thanks, Timothy.

      • It’s great you have been out to so many cool places. That tree boa was so aggressive it had personality. I guess that’s why the drug dealers had it.

  4. I can only go by what you show and tell Jet, and the other I formation I have seen over the years, but they really are truly amazing habitats. I am so pleased that the different countries that have them have finally realised their value in so many ways.
    I love those trees on stilts and also with stilts, I love that agami heron – it is an absolute beauty. You are so informative and entertaining 😊 Thank you.

    • Your comment was a true joy, Alastair, thanks so much. The mangrove swamps are a whole world and one that I only see when I’m on a trip to the tropics. The first mangrove swamp I boated through was a little disconcerting at times, in Costa Rica, until all the animals came out and could be seen lurking around in the roots. And after that I just loved going down the channels, seeing what appeared next. They are a little smelly sometimes, sulfur, and hot and sticky and buggy. I didn’t put all that in today’s post; because that’s all minor to the overall adventure. Wonderful to hear from you, Alastair, thank you.

  5. This is a wonderful post, Jet! We’ve yet to visit a mangrove swamp, but when we do, I hope it’s Ding Darling, just so we can say that over and over. Ding Darling? Childish, I know.
    Loved the information on how important this habitat is, now more than ever.
    Your words and Athena’s photographs? Magic, indeed. Snake in trees, though…
    Thanks, Jet!
    We hope you’re both well, and your local fire/weather conditions begin to improve.

    • Yeah, I like the name Ding Darling, too, pc. It’s actually a man’s name, albeit a nickname. Fun place, too. My favorite mangrove swamp and experience was in Mexico, San Blas, where we went out (boat) in the swamp channel at night to find a night bird. When we came back an hour or two later (the guide had warned us ahead), the tidal waters had risen and we all had to duck down below the boat sides to get under a low stone bridge. Thanks for riding through the mangroves with us today, and thanks for your wonderful comment. I hope you and Mrs. PC have a great weekend. Really funny post today, I’m smiling just thinking about it again. 🙂

  6. It is a good thing to have mangroves in a swamp. They provide shelter to a number of animals and enrich the waters with nourishment to many invertebrates and thus completes the cycle of wildlife. Great post, my friend. 🙂

  7. Thanks for bringing our attention to the beauty & significance of the mangroves of our planet. Once again, the wonder of the narrative & the spectacle of the photographs prove that your blog is an essential resource for the education of our land!

    • A very kind compliment, Walt, thank you. You and I work away at sharing the beauties of this planet with hopes of bringing our fellow humans along the nature path with us. Cheers to you.

  8. Your post is especially interesting to me because of what’s been written by a friend in Eucuador about the destruction of the mangroves there. The effects of mangrove loss in her world are proof of what you’ve written here about their benefits. They’re a wonderful, complex environment, much like the Louisiana swamps, and making people aware of them as more than spooky or dangerous environments is so important.

    • Yes, swamps have had a bad rap for over a century, and it’s exciting to be around when the tide is turning on this. I’m really glad you enjoyed this post, Linda. It was one of my favorites to do, out of pure love for the mangroves and this ecosystem, the wildlife and the quirky guides I’ve had so much fun with. Thanks for your interest and contribution.

  9. i learn so much from your posts, Jet! they’re very informative, excellent photographs and delightful to read. thank you!! i didn’t realize there are so much lives in mangroves and how beneficial they are!

  10. The mangroves are a fascinating an exciting world. Luckily that was a boa and not a black mamba. Great writeup and photos — gotta luv them whistling ducks. That Agami heron is really majestic looking.

    • Thanks so much, Bill. I think the mangroves are exciting, I’m glad you did too. I was happy those boas were just staying put. Glad you liked the whistling ducks, they were really cool. They really do whistle, and it’s fantastic to hear them. Majestic is a good word for the agami heron. Always a treat to have you stop by, much appreciated.

  11. I love the color of that heron. I also enjoyed seeing some birds that are also at the Preserve. It was interesting to see the spoonbill with different coloring from the one I saw here. Black mamba? Yikes. The mangrove roots make me think of the Dr. Seuss book, “The King’s Stilts.” Maybe those trees were related to mangroves.


    • I just looked up The King’s Stilts, Janet, and its “low-lying land surrounded by high water” setting sounds very much like mangroves. I’ve never read it, but it sounds silly and fun. You’re right about the spoonbill, too. There are 6 species of spoonbills in the world, we have only one in the U.S., the roseate. I think the roseate is stunningly beautiful. The royal presented here is about the same size as the roseate. Wonderful to “see” you, thanks so much for your visit.

  12. I am all in to be in the camp that says let’s study and learn how our planet really works and adapt our lives to how it works to let humans grow and progress while letting our wildlife and vegetation thrive so all humans finally figure out that the Mangroves are really, really useful all around is wonderful!
    I just wish we didn’t learn so slow…we’re human…we do. You don’t know how much I lament that I am the slowest human being on the planet. It’s A. Lot!

    Humans have been on our planet for thousands of years and we still don’t know how it all works. We’re babies in its time. We’ll get there I truly believe that. Earth is teaching us how it works. We’ll get there we just need to watch. learn, and adapt. We as a species do adapt well, thankfully! Climate/Weather has been doing what it does for longer than we’ve been here. We just need to learn what it does. We’re getting there. I believe we’ll find the balance that lets us grow and let the planet do what it does. Our planet and the humans and creatures on it are pretty amazing in our universe. I don’t think Humans are going to be going extinct soon, thankfully!

    I had the good fortune to go on a birding trip in the Mexican Mangroves and it was A. Maze. Zing!! I saw howler monkeys and a Frigate bird, Iguanas, and bats nesting and sleeping on a tree right along the river!!!

    You saw so many more wonderful critters! I wish I had your eye!

    • It was a pure delight to receive your comment, Deborah, I thank you so much. I appreciate your optimism SO MUCH on humans and our planet and our ability to adapt and understand the rhythms of our planet. Here in No. Calif. we’ve been in a particularly unpleasant phase of fires lately, and although I am an optimistic person with a great love and faith in humans, I am a little beaten down by these fires. Five evacuations in two months will do that. So I am jumping aboard your train again, with the belief that we’ll find the balance and work this out. Thank you. Meanwhile, I am truly thrilled that you had the chance to go on a bird trip into the Mexican Mangroves, as I can imagine the great fun you had not only from your words and sightings, but also having been in Mexico in the mangroves. Yay, we love the mangroves. Deep thanks.

  13. You always make such a interesting posting Jet!
    I think the reason why there is so much life there is because we aren’t there. Put a few thousand people there and I bet the wildlife would start looking for new turf!

  14. I don’t think I would have ever put mangroves and penguins together! I love mangroves and other swampy environments for their atmosphere and wildlife. We paddled in the mangroves at Everglades NP. They are also important for harboring baby fish (to use a technical scientific term). Like the others, I love the Agamemnon heron photo especially. Wonderful post, Jet!

    • You’re right, Eilene, mangroves and penguins are not something we would expect to go together. But then the Galapagos Islands are filled with delightful anomalies. I’m glad you have enjoyed the mangroves in the Everglades and I chuckled at your joke about the baby fish. My warmest thanks for your comment and visit.

  15. I love the picture of the agami heron in Belize — what lovely shades of blue and green. Not sure exactly where we were in Florida, but I have childhood memories of seeing mangrove swamps with my parents. It’s nice to know they exist in many other places on this planet, and that they are so beneficial for countering the effects of pollution and storm damage, and for sheltering precious wildlife. Thank you for all the interesting facts and wonderful pictures.

    • That agami heron has been a hit here and Athena is glad, because she worked really hard to photograph him. He was tucked way deep into the roots and the guide had cut the motor of the boat and we drifted further and further into those roots, all of us ducking onto the boat floor until she could snap that photo. Funny to think about. I liked hearing about your childhood memory in Florida’s mangrove swamps, Barbara. Florida has a history of cutting out the mangroves in lieu of housing, but fortunately the fight to keep the Everglades was strong. I’m happy you enjoyed the mangrove post, thanks so much, Barbara.

      • Loved hearing about what lengths Athena went to in order to get that amazing photo! We did go to the Everglades several times so that must be where I saw the mangroves. My mother was no doubt working on her bird life list 🙂 I’m relieved that so much of the Everglades has been saved.

  16. Love your post on mangrove swamps. We went to one many years back and unfortunately we could not stay long because of the mosquitos at that time. I want to go again someday – this time with mosquito nets and repellant LOL.

    • Your comment made me LOL too, Sherry. Yes, the mosquitos are a fundamental aspect of the mangroves. I remember once running out of an Everglades trail after less than a minute in there. You would love the birds, so definitely try again with a net next time. My warmest thanks.

  17. Mankind has barely been able to keep up with his own health let alone the health of the ground
    he walks on. We seem to think it’s all ‘automatic’, and everything is taken care of automatically.
    Where is our head anyway?
    One thing that is certain, posts like yours contribute a great deal to the information we all need
    to help us better understand our position on this beautiful Earth and what we need to
    do to help make it better for all life. Thank you Jet, hugs

    • I am humbled and appreciative of your comment, Eddie. There are outdoor experiences on earth that I am fortunate to be able to share involving fun times and beautiful photos. And it’s an honor to share them with you, my dear friend.

  18. Thanks for another informative and beautifully illustrated post. So interesting to see the mangrove systems from all over the world. We kayaked through the mangroves in southwestern Florida a few years ago and it was a fascinating experience.

    • Oh how I enjoyed hearing about your kayak adventure through the Florida mangroves, Nan. Fascinating experience, your words, seems to be my experiences of the mangroves, too. Thanks so much for your visit, comment, and contribution today.

  19. Wonderful homage to the mangroves, Jet. They are fascinating and you sure have seen them worldwide. Great photos of the wildlife enjoying them. My husband is from Miami and we would love to run on a path in the mangroves there with their twisting roots and rather spooky ambience. I’m glad to learn from you how beneficial they are to our environment. Great post, as always. 🙂

    • Great to hear from you, Jane. I liked knowing about the trail you and your husband ran in the Miami mangroves. I really like those twisting roots, too. My warmest thanks to you.

  20. I think those boas would have made me nervous as well. Very nervous but I remember taking a mud-buggy tour of Swamp Billie’s in southern Florida and the guide seemed impervious to the snakes hanging over us and the emu who decided to attack the buggy.

    • You had me laughing pretty hard here, Jan, and not for the first time. Loved the story (I’m still laughing, as I type) about Swamp Billie’s and the mud-buggy and the snakes and the emu. Worded so well, had me roaring. Hats off to you, my friend, and thanks.

  21. Thank you, Jet for sharing this fascinating adventure. I’m still amazed to know how many places you have visited and how many beautiful birds your have seen through your posts. Thank you for taking time to introucing them to us. The agami heron is beautifully captured. 🙂

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the mangrove post, Amy, and the agami heron and the adventures. Yes, I am fortunate to have visited so many places in the world. I sure have enjoyed seeing all the places you have adventured, too. Smiles and thanks to you.

  22. I was utterly impressed at the agami heron! Looks like it won the prize in looks for the heron clan. It all looks quite lovely, but the thought of humidity and bugs (and SNAKES!!!) had me thinking I’d just as soon pass on this adventure. Though it was kindly of you to take me there virtually, of course!

    • Had to chuckle at your assessment of the swamp, Gunta. It’s definitely not for everyone, and you’re right that the humidity, bugs and snakes are a natural part of this world. So what a wonderful thing, then, that I can virtually take you along to the mangrove swamps. Always a delight, my friend, thank you.

  23. I had no idea that mangroves existed in so many locations on this planet. I never cease to learn something new from you Jet. Such fabulous environmental workers they are! Our two trips to the Mexican Baja had us kayaking through the peaceful habitats. Thankfully without large snakes or at least I didn’t see any. Fabulous photos of the life these mangroves house. Such a calming article full of peaceful waters and birdsong. Well possible an occasional squeal on sightings of coiled animals on branches.

    • I’m glad you have enjoyed the mangroves, Sue, and just as well that you didn’t see any large snakes. I think the guide didn’t think we would see those boas up above us, I suspect because we were two women. But with me always spotting everything and Athena photographing, we not only saw them, but she got several good photos. BTW an occasional squeal is allowed. lol. My warmest thanks, Sue, for your visits today.

    • Yes, the mangrove trees are magical, Andrea, for just the reason you say. Unlike most trees. It is so unusual to see a tree in full leaf, full canopy, and yet the trunk is surrounded by water. I’m glad I could bring them to you. Thanks so much for your visit.

  24. Wonderful photos taken in the mangrove swamps. They are certainly great places to observe lots of wildlife. We saw the Jacana bird for the first time on a river trip in Belize. Our guide told us it was called the Jesus Christ bird because of its apparent ability to walk on water.

    • Wonderful that you have seen the jacana, Sylvia, and have had a river cruise along the Belizean mangroves. That is a really fun bird to watch, as they do look like they’re walking on water with the distribution of their weight among those long toes. Thanks so much for your visits.

  25. Those mangroves look lush, sumptuous!
    I feel honoured to have them on our planet!
    I think man should leave nature alone more often than not. We’re making a mess of Mother’s Nature!

    • Always a joy to “see” you, Bertie. I never knew that mangroves absorbed carbon dioxide either, until I delved into research for this post. I’m so glad we both learned something wonderful about the mangroves. Sending lots of smiles your way, my friend.

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