¨Sometimes when we see a mangrove we think of it as simply a green globe, but the truth is that it is a world of high diversity¨ – Edwin Rodriguez
On February 23rd Professor Edwin A. Rodríguez and Professor José C. Chang V. from the Manuel María Tejada Roca (MMTR) high school and the University of Panamá in Las Tablas presented years of research on the mangrove ecosystem to the Pedasí community. Professor Rodríguez presented the botanical aspects of the mangroves, while Professor Chang focused his talk on the diverse organisms that live in the mangroves.
According to Professor Rodríguez, mangroves are trees that have developed incredible adaptations to survive in saline environments. They are able to extract freshwater from saltwater through their roots and glands on their leaves. There are many species of mangroves that together form a forest, each one adapted to different environmental conditions. Professor Rodríguez conducted an investigation on the mangroves of Isla Cañas where he focused on detritus, the rich mud created by decomposing mangrove leaves. It is in the detritus that the trophic cycle begins: Filter feeding microorganisms such as phytoplankton eat detritus and then are eaten by other organisms, supporting the mangrove lifecycle.
Professor Chang presented on the diverse organisms that live in the mangroves during the first parts of their life cycle. This includes 4 species of shrimp, 3 genera of sharks including the hammerhead shark, 4 genera of snappers, and many other fish and shells that are important for human consumption. Some species are only found in mangroves. As Chang explained, the mangroves of Santa Cruz in Isla Coiba are the only site where you will find the ¨mangle piñuelo¨ tree in Central America.
While the mangroves support an incredible diversity of animals that are important both for the ecosystem and economy, Professor Chang highlighted the threats that this ecosystem faces. “30 years ago” Professor Chang states “one person could get up to 200 lbs. of shrimp. Today one person that goes to sea for four days in the shrimp season only fishes two lbs. This is not just due to overfishing; it is also due to the disappearance of the mangroves.” Mangroves are threatened by pollution from dumps, contamination from agro-chemicals applied by plane, and destruction by encroaching agricultural borders and shrimp farms. ¨Contamination of the black shell is already above international limits (FAO, FDA)¨, says Professor Chang.
It was clear from the talk that mangroves are incredibly important sources of biodiversity for fishermen as well as the local community. We need to better understand mangroves, what they are and what they need to survive, in order to protect them into the future.
Written by Sophie M. Fuchs