Are Mangroves Protected in Florida?
by Nick Hammond on Oct 05, 2022
Mangroves are a unique and important ecosystem in Florida. Here is an in-depth look at mangrove protection in the state:
What are Mangroves?
Mangroves are a group of tropical trees that have adapted to thrive in shoreline environments. There are over 50 species found worldwide, but South Florida is home to 3 main types: red mangrove, black mangrove, and white mangrove. These trees grow along estuaries, in saltwater floodplains, and on the shorelines of South Florida.
Mangroves have specialized root structures that allow them to survive in soft, flooded soils. They have aboveground "prop roots" that help support the tree and take in air. Below ground, they have wide spreading root systems. Mangroves also excrete excess salt through their leaves. These evolutionary adaptations allow them to live where other plants cannot.
Mangrove forests are incredibly productive ecosystems. They provide crucial benefits:
- Protect shorelines from erosion and storm surge. The complex root systems stabilize coastal sediments.
- Filter pollutants and excess nutrients from water. The intricate root networks act as natural water filters.
- Provide nursery habitat for many fish and shellfish. The underwater roots shelter juvenile fish and crustaceans.
- Sequester large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. Mangroves store carbon in their soils and biomass, reducing greenhouse gases.
Why Protect Mangroves?
Over the last century, coastal development has led to the destruction of over half of Florida's original mangrove forests. Areas have been cleared for harbors, homes, hotels, and other structures. With this habitat loss also comes the loss of ecosystems services that mangroves provide.
Preserving the remaining mangrove ecosystems in Florida is critical for many reasons:
- Maintain commercial and recreational fisheries. Many species depend on mangrove areas during their juvenile phase. Loss of this nursery habitat impacts populations.
- Protect coastal communities from floods and erosion. Mangroves act as natural buffers against waves, storm surge and sea level rise. They prevent erosion and property damage.
- Filter runoff and improve water quality. Mangroves remove excess nutrients, pollutants and sediments from waters. This maintains clear, clean water.
- Enhance ecotourism opportunities. Activities like fishing, kayaking, bird watching, and photography allow people to experience mangrove forests. This provides income to local economies.
- Mitigate climate change. Mangroves sequester incredibly high amounts of carbon in their soils and biomass. Preserving them maintains this climate benefit.
Clearly, mangroves are not expendable. They are integral to healthy coastal ecosystems and human communities along Florida's shorelines.
Mangrove Protection Laws in Florida
To protect the remaining mangrove forests, Florida has laws regulating their alteration and removal:
- The Mangrove Trimming and Preservation Act outlines requirements for trimming and alteration of mangroves on public and private property. Landowners must obtain permits from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection before trimming or removing any mangrove. This law has helped reduce mangrove loss since its passage in 1996.
- The Environmental Resource Permitting Program regulates any activities that could harm wetlands or alter coastal areas. This includes trimming or removing mangroves, as well as dredging, filling, and construction near mangroves. Permits are required to minimize ecosystem damage.
- Within protected areas like Biscayne National Park, mangroves have extra safeguards. All national parks prohibit damaging or destroying resources like mangroves. State parks, wildlife refuges, and reserves have similar protections.
These laws make mangrove conservation a priority throughout Florida. However, regulations alone cannot prevent all mangrove loss. There are still challenges to their preservation.
Challenges to Mangrove Conservation
While mangrove protection laws help, these ecosystems still face threats:
- Pollution from urban and agricultural runoff that poisons mangroves. Excess nutrients and chemicals damage plants and impair water quality.
- Climate change and sea level rise that drowns mangroves. Flooding kills trees and prevents new growth. Mangroves cannot always migrate inland due to development barriers.
- Invasive species like the Brazilian pepper tree that outcompete native plants. Non-native species disrupt the natural balance of mangrove forests.
- Lack of public awareness about mangrove importance. Many people do not understand the far-reaching benefits healthy mangroves provide to society and the economy.
To meet these challenges, Florida must go beyond legal protections alone. Comprehensive conservation strategies are needed, including:
- Tighter restrictions on pollution sources like fertilizer use and septic systems near mangroves.
- Mangrove restoration and managed retreat in areas threatened by sea level rise.
- Control programs to remove invasive plant species and allow native mangroves to thrive.
- Community education about mangrove values to foster support for conservation.
Mangrove forests are critically important ecosystems in Florida's coastal zones. Preserving them through laws, public policies, and community action is essential for the future environmental and economic health of these regions.
When you purchase from MANG you join a movement of people who are banded together to protect, preserve and restore our ecosystems. The future depends upon stewards like you stepping up to the cause to protect our Earth today.