The location of our stay on Bimini was perfect for afternoon snorkling sessions in the mangroves.
A short kayak out would bring us from the seagrass beds into the mangroves where a variety of aquatic life can be observed.
Teamwork, a one 1-person kayak and only one paddle made for some good times.. :-)
It was quite cool to see the animals doing their daily business even though they were interupted here and there with a flash of the photographer that entered their world for a brief moment.
Mangroves are important for a few reasons.
They keep an island together by protecting it's edges from wind and wave damage. The roots and branches of the mangroves provide a protective barrier breaking heavy winds and waves. The mangroves are an almost inpenetrable barrier, especially once you reach the thick bush.
During our stay we learned first hand how a storm can sweep over an island like Bimini. It seemed as if the apocalypse had arrived when dark clouds packed and heavy winds sweeped in. When the lightning started it was time to bring out the cameras to give it a try.. Tropical storms and hurricanes are not uncommon in the area increasing the importance of the protection of islands by mangroves.
In some locations we could manouvre in between and around a few mangrove bushes outside the tick mangrove bush. One of these solitary mangrove trees provided the perfect opportunity for a split shot showing both the submerged roots as well as the branches, complemented by it's inhabitants.
The mangroves also provide for a nursing room for juvinile fish and other wildlife. Swarms of silver fish moved in between the branches looking for food and protection from larger predators. They would swim in unison moving between the nooks and crannies of the mangrove forrest. For migrating birds the mangroves in Bimini also provide a resting and foraging place.
On the edges of the mangroves, where the roots meet the seagrass other animals can be found. Countless large southern stingrays hunted the shallows for crustaceans and small fish. Big sea hares munched away at the seagrass, the biggest was about 15cm. I have never seen a sea hare (Aplysia Dactylomela) that big in my life! It also seemed to come with olive ring markings for camouflage..
On one of the afternoons a juvinile lemon shark came dashing in and out of view obviously looking for a quick snack. Sadly it was out of frame before I knew it :-).
Mangroves worldwide are under threat due to many causes. One of the main causes is the clearing and overharvesting of mangroves themselves. With increasing populations worldwide both room for industrial development as well as the unsustainable use of the mangrovewood are a big threat to healthy mangrove ecosystems. Other human related issues are the introduction of dams and river changes which influence the amount of water that reaches mangroves affecting the salinity (i.e. "saltiness") of the water. If the salinity of the water becomes too high then some mangrove types do not survive.
Reef destruction also influences the mangroves since the reefs form the premier natural barrier against waves. Take away the reefs and the mangroves will go next. Water polluted by fertilizers and pesticides also take a toll on the health of mangrove ecosystems.
Despite all pressure on mangrove ecosystems, we were happy to find lots of animals thriving in the mangroves in Bimini, both above and below the water. Also, the SharkLab with its researchers and volunteers provides for some valuable advocates for the conservation of the mangroves in Bimini.
Sadly a search for some elusive seahorses in the mangroves did not pay off. Ah well, might come back one day to find some!