Mangrove Marshes of the Indian River Lagoon

There are seven different habitats in the Indian River Lagoon that are critical to the existence of the plants and animals that calls the estuary home. One such habitat are mangrove marshes. These marshes, of which there are three different types, are easily identifiable and an important part of life on the lagoon.

The Indian River Lagoon is an estuary located on the east coast of Florida. The 150-mile long body of water stretches from the Ponce De Leon Inlet to the Jupiter Inlet. It averages three feet in depth and from one-half mile to five miles in width. The most diverse estuary in North America, the Indian River Lagoon features 2,200 different species of animals and 2,100 different types of plants.

There are seven different habitats that feature as homes and feeding ground for the animals in the Indian River Lagoon. These are freshwater marshes, salt marshes, mangrove marshes, seagrass beds, coastal hammocks, dunes, and beaches. None are more important than the mangrove marshes.

Mangrove Marshes

Mangrove marshes are important to life in the Indian River Lagoon because they supply food and shelter for many of the animals. Within hours of leaves falling, bacteria and fungi begin to turn into food called detritus. This detritus serves as food for worms, shrimp, crabs, mullet, and other animals.

They also clean the water and keep the shore from washing away. By trapping and cycling pollutants, filtering sediments, and absorbing excessive nutrients from storm water runoff, these marshes help to improve the quality of local waters. Since mangrove trees can’t survive in cold weather, they only grow in areas where it doesn’t freeze. In areas where it does freeze, salt grasses replace mangrove marshes. There are three types of mangrove marshes that you’ll find in the lagoon; red mangrove, black mangrove, and white mangrove.

Red Mangrove Marshes

The most common mangroves of the Indian River Lagoon are the red mangrove marshes. They can be easily identified by their roots which drop down out of their branches. These roots, called prop roots, help to hold the tree up in soft mud. These prop roots make it look as though the red mangrove is walking on water which gives the tree its nickname of walking tree. These roots remove salt from the water and are the home of many plants and animals of the lagoon. As the seeds of the tree fall from the branches, the green, pencil-shaped seeds plant themselves to create further growth.

Black Mangrove Marshes

The Black mangrove marshes grow behind the red mangroves and receive their name because of the color of their trunk. Like red mangroves, they can be identified by their finger-like roots that stick out of the mud around the trunk. These roots function like lungs for the black mangroves allowing it to breath. If the roots stay under the water for too long, the mangrove will drown. The leaves of the black mangrove are dark green on the top and silver on the bottom. These trees remove salt through these leaves and the salt can be seen on their leaves on the hot Florida summer days. The seeds of the black mangrove are shaped like large lima beans.

White Mangrove Marshes

Growing furthest from the water is the white mangrove. They are distant from the water because they can’t survive in the water like the other two types of mangrove trees. Unlike the red mangroves and black mangroves, white mangroves don’t have any special roots but are identifiable by their leaves. These leaves, which are shaped in light green ovals, have two bumps on their leaf stems which are salt glands. These salt glands pump out the salt that’s been taken in by the roots. The seeds of the white mangrove are small and tear drop shaped with wrinkles on them.

Of the seven habitats that make up the Indian River Lagoon, none is more important than the mangrove marshes. These three different types of marshes serve as both homes for the 2,200 different types of species and as a feeding ground for them. If you want to get a closer look at the mangrove marshes of the Indian River Lagoon or explore the lagoon in other ways, join 321 Boat Club.