I spent the morning with a group of Portland State University that have been studying mangroves on Turneffe Atoll (note: I picked a day when they were not going to be deep in the mangroves because there are millions of mosquitoes living in there --see "Donating Blood").
I acted as the photojournalist for the day.
Mangroves are unusual trees that thrive in estuaries and marine coastlines in the tropics and subtropics. To survive in these locations they have to deal with high saline. The plant has to secrete the excess salt that it takes in (picture on the right).These trees have really cool seeds that already look like little seedlings (below). The seed floats in the water with the brown tip down. The tip sticks into the sand/mud and wave and tide action slowly move it back and forth until it is in a position to begin to grow.
The mangrove forests are important for many reasons, but one that has been in the news recently is their role in protecting coastal areas from severe weather, such as a tsunami. Mangroves are often cleared for development. PSU researchers noticed that saplings established in areas where mangroves were cleared, but they grew very slowly. While saplings that established near intact mangroves were growing rapidly. The saplings may receive considerable help from the large mangrove trees (e.g., shelter from waves, nutrients from fallen leaves, sediment trapping, etc.). Thus, re-establishing cleared mangroves may be difficult. That's what these folks are trying to figure out. Click here to see the crew on our way to a study site. The sea is a bit rough outside of the reef.(Below a mangrove sapling next to a sapling scientist.)
(Two PSU students work with enclosures on mangrove saplings.)
They've made measurements, taken sediment cores, enclosed saplings, added fertilizers, and measure wave height and frequency.
They also timed how fast seeds floated through an area (below). "Five bucks on number seven!" Seedlings were dropped. The race was on. And today, they were making record time. This is just the beginning of the study. It will be going on for several more years. The hope is that they'll gain a greater understanding for the conditions necessary for mangroves to re-establish, so that the areas that have been cleared can be restored.
While they were busy collecting data, I wandered around "Coconut Island." It's a tiny island, and like every other beach around, it was covered in garbage (can you find the light bulb?). Nobody dumped garbage onto the island. It washed ashore. In fact many "pristine" beaches that you've visited have also been covered in trash. Early in the morning at resorts around the world people wake up really early to rake the beaches and pick up the trash, so that we see nice, clean, post-card-looking beaches. And in many places, such as Florida, they dredge up sand to constantly replace the beaches because they erode away. They're man-made beaches. The trash above may be from a cruise ship. You see, it's legal for cruise ships, and other vessels, to dump trash, human waste, medical waste, photo processing chemicals, etc. into the ocean if they're 250 miles off shore. There is no regulation, no law to prevent them. Where does it all go? Into the ocean is bad enough! But, it also washes up on beaches everywhere. The cruise ships that pass by Belize can show people the beautiful beaches and then dump their trash into the sea when they get out of range. Don't go on a cruise.
Oh, I watched a dolphin mother and her calf this afternoon too. The calf was very cute. Tomorrow I may go look for manatee. We'll see.