Mangroves and the Ecosystem
by Shayne Benowitz
If you ever find yourself gazing off into the horizon while the sun is setting in Key West, you might notice a string of keys extending westward. It is true that Key West is the southernmost key, but it is not exactly the end of the road. What you are looking at is a chain of sand flats and mangrove islands that continue for seventy miles west towards Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas.
Fort Jefferson was built in the mid 1800s to protect the Gulf of Mexico’s shipping channels. It also played a role in the Civil War where it was used as a prison camp. Today, it is a piece of unspoiled history that can be reached by boat or seaplane. It’s an excellent snorkeling location and you can even plan to camp out over night.
Along the way to Fort Jefferson and throughout much of the Florida Keys, you will notice outcroppings of green trees with tough branches rooted to the seafloor. This is a unique species known as mangroves. They are one of the only species of trees that have adapted to the salt water and actually thrive in it. They are a very important part of the Florida Keys ecosystem as they work in tandem with the coral reef to provide nursery feeding grounds for many species of game and commercial fish. They also provide shelter and habitat for many of the marine mammals and birds in South Florida.
Mangroves are a beautiful part of the unique tropical landscape in Key West just like the coral reef, palm trees, and the crystal blue ocean. When you’re in town, take a closer look at these clusters of saltwater trees. Many trips are available where you can kayak through mangrove channels to experience this dynamic ecosystem. Keep your eyes open for the Big Chill, Fury Water Adventures brand new eco-trip coming soon!
Shayne Benowitz is a Fury crewmember and freelance writer working on her debut novel. For more travel stories and a daily dose of what’s cool around the globe visit her Wanderlust Website at http://web.me.com/shaynebeth.