THE IMPORTANCE OF MANGROVES
For as small as the islands of Bimini are, their ecological importance to the Bahamas, and beyond, is huge. Uniting the unique wildlife above and below the waters of North, South, & East Bimini is an assortment of trees that create the foundation of Bimini's ecological diversity. The seasonal migrations of birds that pass through Bimini, the rare endemic reptiles that scurry around the landscape, and the abundance of marine life that has made Bimini legendary all rely on the same foundation. That foundation is the mangroves of Bimini.
Mangrove trees have evolved to thrive in the harsh, inhospitable zone between land and sea. Stemming from their unique biology and geographical distribution, is the fact that mangroves constitute one of the most productive, and biologically diverse, ecosystems on the planet.
Unfortunately, unlike in other areas of the world, the mangroves in the Bahamas are not protected by law. This does not take away from their immense value to the islands they are found on, and the country as a whole. The mangroves of the Bahamas provide essential nursery habitat for well over 100 species of fish and marine invertebrates. Such species include commercially important species as snappers (Lutjanus spp.), spiny lobster (Panulirus argus), queen conch (Strombus gigas), and the nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus). Other rare and important species that utilize the mangrove lagoons of the Bahamas include the endangered smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata), the federally protected Bimini boa (Epicrates striatus), and the national bird of the Bahamas, the West Indian flamingo (Phoenicpterus ruber).
The mangroves of the Bahamas are home to such an abundance of wildlife, that it is difficult to exaggerate their ecological value. Unbeknownst to many, perhaps the species that benefits from them most is humans. Live mangroves represent a resource that not only has ecological value, but also huge economic and social value.
Mangroves serve as a buffer between land and sea, providing vital protection to the coastal shorelines and communities that they outline. The mangroves not only enhance the stabilization of the shoreline during normal tidal events, but also during extreme conditions, such as hurricanes and tsunami's. The protection they provide during events such as these is to date unmatched by any man-made product. With global warming increasing the frequency and intensity of tropical storms, many countries around the world are trying to devise ways to protect themselves, not with concrete barricades and storm walls, but with mangroves.
The economic value of Bahamian mangroves comes not only from their ability to prevent destruction, but also in their ability to enhance tourism. Eco-tourism is one of the fastest growing aspects of the Bahamian tourism industry, and few features of the Bahamian landscape offer as much diversity and opportunity as the mangroves. Additionally, studies have proven that healthy mangrove ecosystems have a direct link to healthy and productive coral reefs and off-shore fisheries.
Despite the overwhelming & obvious evidence of the importance & value of mangroves, they are still being exploited and destroyed around the world. The islands of Bimini harbour the only mangrove habitat on the entire western Great Bahama Bank, a fact so significant that Bimini was designated as the highest priority site for a Marine Protected Area by the Bahamas government back in 2000. Yet today, Bimini's mangrove habitat shrinks smaller and smaller as a result of foreign development.
As the mangroves of Bimini disappear, so too will the natural beauty that has made these islands such an amazingly unique place. Without a foundation to grow from, the ecology of the islands will collapse. Hopefully soon, both visitors and locals will embrace Bimini's natural beauty and all it has to offer, ecologically, economically, and culturally.
Filmed by Sarah Dauphinee