Almost everybody that took a high school Biology and/or Geography lesson will have learned about the mysterious mangroves and their special environmental super powers. Back then, squashed into a dimly lit and most likely smelly classroom, our heads full of teenage drama, it was hard to understand why we were learning about such a foreign kind of plant. Well, here we are years later, presented with travel opportunities including the chance to visit mangroves of the world.
Why Would I Possibly Want to Visit Mangroves?
Okay, so I admit that it might not be everybody’s cup of tea. As an environmentalist by training, and a lover of the outdoors, the time that I spent teaching in the mangroves were some of the my most enjoyable times to date, and I count my lucky stars that I had that opportunity whilst I still could. However, I do feel like most people who like to travel also like to see as much variety as possible, and as mangrove environments are pretty unique, why would anybody say no?! Just in case you’re not completely sold on the idea, here are a few reasons why mangroves are super cool and you should visit them.
They’re by the sea, duh.
In case you didn’t remember this little fact from that lesson we spoke about, mangroves are in fact, by the sea. When we say ‘mangroves’, we can be referring to the ecosystem, or the plant itself, but both rely on the combination of land mass and salt water. The plant needs a sheltered environment to grow, i.e. not directly facing the open ocean, so the places that they grow tend to be idyllic, serene, relatively still-watered paradises (is that the plural of paradise? Who knows). Ergo: perfect for naturists and naturalists alike…
They are endangered.
It seems to be a recurring pattern with mankind, that as soon as we have something unique and beautiful, we start to destroy it. The same goes with mangroves. According to the WWF, 35% of the world’s mangroves are already gone. As I mentioned above, mangroves grow in serene and beautiful coastal areas. They also grow in thick and sticky mud. When holidaying, we tend to prefer burying our feet (and head) in the sand, rather than grey, stinky gloop, so more and more mangroves are being lost to coastal development, being dredged up to build marinas and hotels, their characteristic mud being replaced with white sand.
Mangrove wood is also a fantastic material for making products such as paper, and also fire. Although there is more and more awareness in local cultures about the ecological benefits of mangroves, for many the economic value of chopping it down is greater. This is something that I have witnessed first hand, and involved a lot of disgusted noises, shaking of my fists and pointing (I was working at the time).
They save our coastlines.
Did you know that having a nice, thick, leafy barrier along the coastline actually acts as a sweet-as barrier against heavy waves? Mangrove trees can protect inland areas from huge ocean slams such as storms and tsunamis by breaking up the big mama wave into much smaller ones. They don’t just protect the coast from big impacts either: the twisted way that the trees grow combined with their expansive root system creates a deposition area for sediment that normal tidal processes pick up and drop (everybody remembers longshore drift from their high school lessons, affectionately known as LSD: the high for nerds).
They’re super plants.
Now this is the bit that personally impressed me most about the mangroves, and will hopefully make you feel the same way if you have a bit of the nerd running through your veins. Mangroves are the only plant that is adapted to survive on salt water, giving it a superiority over other plants when it comes to finding space to survive (it gets the coast edge).
Firstly, they have these roots that stick up out of the mud and work in a similar way to a snorkel. Like I said above, the mud that mangroves grow in is thick and sticky, and totally saturated, making it pretty hard for normal root systems to get the carbon dioxide necessary for the plant to survive. So, the mangrove sends out these long roots in a clockwork pattern from the bush, and then out of these long triffid-esque pipelines, they push up snorkels that poke out of the mud and effectively breathe, known as pneumatophores. The tide comes in and out, and the roots are covered by the water for a limited time and are pretty tough – I can speak from experience when I say that standing on these barefoot is less than enjoyable. These root networks are what keeps the tree stable and protected from the tide, and in turn protects the coastline from erosion.
Secondly, it drinks salt water (as much as a plant can actually drink water at all). Most plants require fresh water to survive, and if you were to pour salt water on it there would be shriveling and death. But not for the mangrove! It sucks up that salty brine and takes the goodness from it, before literally squeezing out the salt from its pores, or stomata. If you look at the underside of a mangrove leaf, they are glittery with salt crystals, and if you give it a lick (done it) it tastes like it would go nicely with a hearty portion of McDonalds fries.
They’re a totally unique nursery ecosystem offering awesome animals!
If you didn’t already gather from this post, mangroves are pretty unique, and this stretches to the animals that chill in this ecosystem. I’ve told you about the amazing roots that protect the coastline and access the air for the plant, but they also have a use for fish as well (could they be any cooler?!).
The spiky depositional protection that these roots provide means that little baby fish can stay in this area, hiding from the predators of the big, bad ocean until they are big enough to take them on themselves. Ergo, it’s known as a nursery habitat, and you will see schools of thousands of tiny silver fish swimming around your feet.
Additionally, it’s the home of a variety of crabs including blue swimmers with their paddle back legs that allow them to actually swim through the water. They grow to a huge size and have an incredible amount of strength in their claws. On my first time visiting the mangroves we went for a snorkel, and my friend accidentally put her hand on a enormous swimmer crab causing it to erupt out of the sand. You will also find bat stars, upside down jellyfish, and much more!
Finally, the mangroves are great for bird watchers. You can spot ospreys and other sea birds, and if you are in the UAE, the mangroves are on the migratory path of flamingoes. I cried the first time that I saw one.
OK, I’m sold, how do I visit the mangroves?
Sustainably! It goes without saying that wherever you are when you are travelling, you should try to be as sustainable as possible. Leave no trace is the motto we should all have engraved on our brains. No trash, and don’t take anything away with you when you go. You should go with a guide where you can to minimise any environmental destruction and to make sure that you know the acceptable behaviour.
Countries with mangroves
Mangroves are a depleting ecosystem, so there are only some countries that still have them. There are a variety of different type of mangrove trees, and below is a list of where you can visit mangroves.
- Costa Rica
- El Salvador
- Puerto Rico
- The Bahamas
- Saudi Arabia
- New Guinea
- New Zealand
- Various Pacific islands!
Companies offering mangrove tours
As I mentioned, you should really visit the mangroves with somebody who knows about them so that you don’t have a negative impact. I worked for a company in the UAE who provided visits for schools, however I am sure that they can advise you on how to visit them in the best way, as well as possibly organizing a day event if there are enough of you! Contact Ecoventure via their website here.
Langkawi Mangrove Tour in Malaysia is rated quite highly on Tripadvisor, so check them out in if you are in that area of the world!
Daintree River Tours in Queensland, Australia is yet again rated very highly on TripAdvisor, and if we can’t believe the masses, who can we believe?!
Remember, the best way to preserve this environment is to spread the word and raise awareness, and we are all far more inclined to do so if we feel an emotional connection to something. To find your connection, you should definitely try and visit and learn more about the mangrove environment where you can, and spread the love. If you have ever visited a mangrove environment yourself, let me know in the comments below! Where was it? Have you got any experiences with companies to visit the mangroves? I would love to hear about it!