The Historic Mangroves of the Galapagos Islands

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Galapagos finch.

Notice how many of the coastline borders of the Galapagos National Park are lined with little trees, supported by long, creeping roots that appear to emerge directly out of the salty ocean water, as your vessel approaches the park. Mangroves are the name given to these trees, which are well-known for their propensity to thrive in permanent or almost permanent bodies of water as well as exceptionally high salinities (mangroves can withstand water 100 times saltier than most trees can). The antiquity of the Galapagos mangroves makes them especially noteworthy. The mangrove environment that has formed on the islands is probably thousands of years old, as these trees grow slowly from the volcano bottom where they have limited nutrients. The South Isabela mangrove forests were approved by RAMSAR in 2002 due to their exceptional richness and growth.

Handling the saline water

Because they can withstand salt, Galapagos mangroves are generally found along beaches, where ocean and land meet. Mangroves have evolved a number of amazing adaptations to survive these incredibly demanding environments. Their root structure, which usually extends above the ground like stilts in convoluted looping patterns, is one of their most remarkable adaptations. Because there is either little or no oxygen in the mud or water in which the trees dwell, this procedure enables the plants to receive oxygen through the pores in their roots. Higher ground with lower water levels is home to other mangroves, such the black mangrove. In contrast, black mangroves produce pores-covered tentacle-like roots called pneumatophores that rise from the surface to take in oxygen from the surrounding air.

The mangroves in the Galapagos have leaves that are incredibly waxy, sometimes almost fuzzy. This is because the leaves are designed to retain the valuable freshwater that the trees have gained by evaporating as little as possible. Additionally, the leaves may have a succulent shape that allows them to retain more water in their meaty structure.

In order to filter the extraordinarily high concentrations of salt in their surroundings, the trees also employ a range of strategies; certain species employ a combination of strategies, while others only employ one. Up to 97% of the salt in the water where some Galapagos mangroves (also known as red mangroves) grow may be removed by filtering it. Since most salt never reaches the tree, its very impermeable roots serve as the ideal filtering mechanism. However, some mangroves store surplus salt in their old leaves, which they eventually shed. In order to filter salt and provide fresh water to the leaves, the mangroves’ typically vertical branches serve as aerating organs. Nevertheless, certain mangroves, like the white mangrove, contain two salt glands on the base of each leaf, allowing them to directly release salt.

Why do they matter?

Mangroves contribute to the ecological richness of the Galapagos Islands by being essential to many coastal systems in addition to being exceptional due to their unusual roots and capacity for filtration. Mangrove forests are crucial breeding sites for fish, birds, and other invertebrates, such as turtles, penguins, flamingos, rays, and even sharks, due to their abundance of nutrients and plankton. Additionally, the creatures are shielded by the roots from huge predators and waves, which can weaken them by up to 75%.

On the Western Galapagos Islands of the Galapagos Cruise Santa Cruz II, there are fantastic chances to observe mangroves and discover more about them. These include Northern Floreana, Fernandina Island, and Tortuga Bay. The Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel is another amazing place to observe and learn about all four types of mangroves. The hotel’s grounds are primarily buttonwood mangroves, which are part of a long-term regeneration strategy, while the other species are visible a short distance away, framing a beautiful beach. A little stroll west of the hotel brings you to a serene bay surrounded by towering mangroves, where herons gather every morning and evening to go to and from their roosting grounds.

Mangroves in the Galapagos

Small-ground finch perched on a branch.
The mangrove, a tree that is home to the mangrove finch, is the source of its name

The red, black, white, and button mangroves are the four varieties of mangroves found in the Galapagos. Among the species found in the Galapagos, the black mangrove is the most salt-tolerant, and it even possesses unique glands that remove salt. Short aerial roots and tiny tentacle roots that emerge vertically from the ground and encircle the tree are characteristics of this kind of mangrove. The reddish wood covering red mangroves makes them easier to identify and more widespread in the Galapagos. They are widespread in the area of low tide. Charcoal from this species is utilized all over the world. Pneumatophores, stilted roots, and delicate white blossoms are characteristics of white mangroves. Although it is not a real mangrove, the buttonwood mangrove is the last species. It is commonly found near mangroves with an aboveground root structure and that develop at higher altitudes, such the black mangrove.

Updated:May 29, 2024

Published:December 2, 2016

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