February 2, 2017
This World Wetlands Day, we thought we should talk about some of the key wetlands that support flats fisheries. One thing they have in common is the presence of mangroves. Whether fishing for tailing bonefish or cruising permit around small mangrove shoots, pushing deep into mangrove-lined creeks in pursuit of juvenile tarpon or snook, or patiently staking out next to mangrove shorelines waiting for migrating tarpon, mangroves are an inextricable part of the saltwater flats fishing landscape. Yet we don’t often stop to contemplate the vitally important roles they play in so many aspects of coastal habitats, and the devastating effects mangrove loss have on fish and their environments.
Mangroves provide important habitat for juvenile fish and invertebrates that use the habitats seasonally, and provide habitat for a whole group of fish and invertebrates that spend most of their life cycle in the mangrove ecosystem. They filter sediments from land that otherwise would smother coral and seagrass, and are important players in the nutrient cycles of coastal habitats. They also serve as buffers against storm surge (a particularly important point since the theme of this year's World Wetlands Day is wetlands for disaster risk reduction). A recent article by Evelyn S. Gonzalez at Florida International University also notes the importance of mangroves in storing carbon—in Everglades National Park (home to the largest mangrove forests in the US), scientists have placed the value of that carbon storage at between $2 billion and $3.4 billion.
Globally, mangroves are under assault. More than half of mangroves have been lost already, and they continue to be lost at a rate of 1% per year, according to the Mangrove Action Project. The majority have been lost in the past 50 years and mostly in the last two decades. The main causes include shrimp farming, tourism, urbanization and agricultural expansion.
We need to consider the human impact on important wetland habitats, and take steps to address it. Everglades National Park - designated a Wetland of International Importance - is under siege from a number of human-induced threats. Steps have been outlined to help solve the challenges facing ENP, but progress to execute those steps has been slow. A bill recently introduced in the Florida Legislature is a step in the right direction, and calls for creating areas south of Lake Okeechobee to store, clean and convey fresh water from the lake. The only way we can save the Everglades is to ensure that clean freshwater is being conveyed in a manner that more closely resembles historical freshwater flows, with less water going east and west into the estuaries, and more water being sent south to Florida Bay.
We hope on this World Wetlands Day you will consider helping protect one of the most important wetlands on earth by signing the Now or Neverglades Declaration, and hope you will spread the word about the importance of mangroves and wetlands to ecosystems and communities around the world.
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