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Sunset Point, showing the amazing stretch of coral reef out front,
and with (protected) mangrove in abundance, binding the soil
and helping to maintain the extraordinary privacy this development enjoys.

Sunset Point, with protected mangrove in abundance.

Mangrove: Why it is such a good plant for Sunset Point

Mangroves (generally) are trees and shrubs that grow in saline coastal habitats in the tropics and subtropics. The word is used in at least three senses: (1) most broadly to refer to the habitat and entire plant assemblage or mangal, for which the terms mangrove swamp and mangrove forest are also used, (2) to refer to all trees and large shrubs in the mangal, and (3) narrowly to refer to the mangrove family of plants, the Rhizophoraceae, or even more specifically just to mangrove trees of the genus Rhizophora. Mangals are found in depositional coastal environments where fine sediments, often with high organic content, collect in areas protected from high energy wave action.


A mangrove is a plant and mangal is a plant community and habitat where mangroves thrive. They are found in tropical and sub-tropical tidal areas, and as such have a high degree of salinity. Areas where mangals occur include estuaries and marine shorelines.

Plants in mangals are diverse but all are able to exploit their habitat (the intertidal zone) by developing physiological adaptations to overcome the problems of anoxia, high salinity and frequent tidal inundation. About 110 species have been identified as belonging to the mangal. Each species has its own capabilities and solutions to these problems; this may be the primary reason why, on some shorelines, mangrove tree species show distinct zonation. Small environmental variations within a mangal may lead to greatly differing methods of coping with the environment. Therefore, the mix of species at any location within the intertidal zone is partly determined by the tolerances of individual species to physical conditions, like tidal inundation and salinity, but may also be influenced by other factors such as predation of plant seedlings by crabs.

Once established, roots of mangrove plants provide a habitat for oysters and help to impede water flow, thereby enhancing the deposition of sediment in areas where it is already occurring. Usually, the fine, anoxic sediments under mangroves act as sinks for a variety of heavy (trace) metals which are scavenged from the overlying seawater by colloidal particles in the sediments. In areas of the world where mangroves have been removed for development purposes, the disturbance of these underlying sediments often creates problems of trace metal contamination of seawater and biota.

Mangroves protect the coast from erosion, surge storms (especially during hurricanes), and tsunamis. Their massive root system is efficient at dissipating wave energy. Likewise, they slow down tidal water enough that its sediment is deposited as the tide comes in and is not re-suspended when the tide leaves, except for fine particles. As a result, mangroves build their own environment. Because of the uniqueness of the mangrove ecosystems and their protection against erosion, they are often the object of conservation programs including national Biodiversity Action Plans.

Despite their benefits, the protective value of mangroves is sometimes overstated. Wave energy is typically low in areas where mangroves grow, so their effect on erosion can only be measured in the long-term. Their capacity to limit high-energy wave erosion is limited to events like storm surges and tsunamis. Erosion often still occurs on the outer sides of bends in river channels that wind through mangroves, just as new stands of mangroves are appearing on the inner sides where sediment is accreting.

Mangroves support unique ecosystems, especially on their intricate root systems. The mesh of mangrove roots produces a quiet marine region for many young organisms. In areas where roots are permanently submerged, they may host a wide variety of organisms, including algae, barnacles, oysters, sponges, and bryozoans, which all require a hard substratum for anchoring while they filter feed. Shrimps and mud lobsters use the muddy bottom as their home. Mangrove crabs improve the nutritional quality of the mangal muds for other bottom feeders by mulching the mangrove leaves. In at least some cases, export of carbon fixed in mangroves is important in coastal food webs. The habitats also host several commercially important species of fish and crustaceans. In Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, and India, mangrove plantations are grown in coastal regions for the benefits they provide to coastal fisheries and other uses. Despite replanting programs, over half of the world's mangroves have been lost in recent times.


A wide variety of plant species can be found in mangrove habitat, but of the recognized 110 species, only about 54 species in 20 genera from 16 families constitute the "true mangroves", species that occur almost exclusively in mangrove habitats and rarely elsewhere. Convergent evolution has resulted in many species of these plants finding similar solutions to the problems of variable salinity, tidal ranges (inundation), anaerobic soils and intense sunlight that come from living in the tropics. Plant biodiversity is generally low in a given mangal - more than twenty species are uncommon. This is especially true in higher latitudes and in the Americas. The greatest biodiversity occurs in the mangal of New Guinea, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Adaptations to low oxygen

Red mangroves, which can live in the most inundated areas, prop themselves up above the water level with stilt roots and can then take in air through pores in their bark (lenticels). Black mangroves live on higher ground and make many pneumatophores (specialised root-like structures which stick up out of the soil like straws for breathing) which are covered in lenticels. These "breathing tubes" typically reach heights of up to thirty centimeters, and in some species, over three meters. There are four types of pneumatophore-stilt or prop type, snorkel or peg type, knee type, and ribbon or plank type. Knee and ribbon types may be combined with buttress roots at the base of the tree. The roots also contain wide aerenchyma to facilitate oxygen transport within the plant.

Limiting salt intake

Red mangroves exclude salt by having rather impermeable roots which are highly suberised, acting as an ultra-filtration mechanism to exclude sodium salts from the rest of the plant. Water inside the plant shows that 90%, and in some cases of high salinity, up to 97%, of the salt has been excluded at the roots. Any salt which does accumulate in the shoot is concentrated in old leaves which are then shed, as well as stored away safely in cell vacuoles. White (or grey) mangroves can secrete salts directly; they have two salt glands at each leaf base (hence their name - they are covered in white salt crystals).

Limiting water loss

Because of the limited availability of freshwater in the salty soils of the intertidal zone, mangrove plants have developed ways of limiting the amount of water that they lose through their leaves. They can restrict the opening of their stomata (pores on the leaf surfaces, which exchange carbon dioxide gas and water vapour during photosynthesis). They also vary the orientation of their leaves to avoid the harsh midday sun and so reduce evaporation from the leaves. Anthony Calfo, a noted aquarium author, has observed anecdotally that a red mangrove in captivity only grows if its leaves are misted with fresh water several times a week, simulating the frequent rainstorms in the tropics.

Nutrient uptake

The biggest problem that mangroves face is nutrient uptake. Because the soil is perpetually waterlogged, there is little free oxygen. Thus anaerobic bacteria liberate nitrogen gas, soluble iron, inorganic phosphates, sulfides, and methane, which makes the soil much less nutritious and contributes to a mangrove's pungent odor. Prop root systems allow mangroves to take up gasses directly from the atmosphere, and various other nutrients, like iron, from the inhospitable soil. Gases are quite often stored directly inside the roots and processed even when the roots are submerged during high tide.

Increasing survival of offspring

In this harsh environment, mangroves have evolved a special mechanism to help their offspring survive. All mangroves have buoyant seeds suited to dispersal in water. Unlike most plants, whose seeds germinate in soil, many mangrove plants (e.g. Red Mangrove) are viviparous, i.e., their seeds germinate while still attached to the parent tree. Once germinated, the seedling grows either within the fruit (e.g. Aegialitis, Acanthus, Avicennia and Aegiceras), or out through the fruit (e.g. Rhizophora, Ceriops, Bruguiera and Nypa) to form a propagule (a seedling ready to go), which can produce its own food via photosynthesis. When the propagule is mature it drops into the water where it can then be transported great distances. Propagules can survive desiccation and remain dormant for weeks, months, or even over a year until they arrive in a suitable environment. Once a propagule is ready to root, it will change its density so that the elongated shape now floats vertically rather than horizontally. In this position, it is more likely to become lodged in the mud and root. If it does not root, it can alter its density so that it floats off again in search of more favorable conditions.

Copyright: This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article on Mangrove.

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