Mangroves are a lot like the US Marines. They travel across great distances by sea and they arrive to establish a beachhead on a young and fragile sandbar. They bring with them all the supplies they need to survive in a harsh and unpredictable environment. The three species of mangrove found on Shell Key are specialized in their tasks – but unified in their goal of moving up the shore and transforming the sand into a rich and diverse Tidal Swamp ecosystem.
First In: The Red Team
Red Mangroves are the most salt tolerant and they occupy the lowest elevations of the shoreline. Their seed pods root themselves in the sand and they prop themselves above the water line with their distinctive ‘Stilt Roots’. These roots act as a snorkle to provide the plant with needed air. Red mangroves’ root structure slows water flow and helps to build the sandbar into a small island. Their falling leaves decompose and help form the foundations of the food chain.
Boots on the ground
Black mangroves establish their base of operations just above the high tide line. They benefit from the supply lines established by the red mangroves and they contribute to the mission of building land and feeding the ecosystem. This species is named for the darker color of its trunk and heartwood. The leaves often appear whitish from the salt excreted at night and on cloudy days.
The White Mangrove grows in the sandy dunes at the highest part of the tidal marsh. Along with the Buttonwood, it forms a protective line against storms and winds coming from the Gulf.
All 3 mangrove species work together to build and maintain the health of Shell Key. Upland species like the White Mangrove can grow to nearly 50 feet tall – providing shade for wildlife and humans.
Please do not ever cut or disturb mangroves for any reason. All the plants in Shell Key Preserve are protected by law. Besides the critical ecological value these trees have – people come to this island to visit undisturbed nature – and causing a scar on the land by cutting down mangroves is extraordinarily careless. We appreciate your cooperation.