Know your islands
Mangroves provide many important functions vital to the health of Cayman’s environment, including providing an ideal habitat for birds, fish and a wealth of different invertebrate species.
In addition to the habitat they provide, mangrove wetlands also perform numerous other essential functions.
The dense and extremely strong root systems form a perfect protection against the large waves and storm surges that Cayman can experience during hurricanes and other storms.
The entire living system of North Sound is also inextricably linked to the Central Mangroves, and would collapse if the Wetland were ever destroyed.
The following is taken from Wild Trees in the Cayman Islands by Fred Burton, with illustrations by Penny Clifford; Photographs by Tytia Habing and Marnie Laing.
Red Mangrove can be most easily recognized by its mass of supporting prop roots and dangling aerial roots, and in season by the clusters of germinating seeds which stay attached to the tree as their spear-like main root develops. The aerial roots are flexible and feel slightly spongy, but as they reach ground they strengthen, becoming hard and woody, supporting the growing tree.
The bark on older Red Mangrove trunks cracks into large, irregular flakes which tend to stay attached to the tree: the surface is marked with lichen patches in orange, sulphur yellow and silvery grey. The rather shiny leaves develop from a spike-like leaf bud. The flowers are pale yellow.
Red Mangrove is found in mangrove wetlands throughout the Cayman Islands, though it can not tolerate extremely salty conditions in the way Black Mangrove can. Where the Central Mangrove Wetland merges into Little Sound, Red Mangrove grows with its roots dangling into deeper water. The submerged roots are colonized by an amazing variety of marine life. This tree is found throughout the tropical Americas, and also in the Pacific.
The bark of Red Mangrove is pinkish red inside, and yields a dye which was exported commercially from the Cayman Islands in the early 1900s for tanning leather. The bard was beaten off the trunks of mangroves slightly inland of the coast of North Sound, collected in sacks and shipped to Europe via Jamaica. These ‘barked mangrove all died, but seedlings eventually grew up and replaced them, so that little trace remained 40 years later: the trade died out in the late 1930s.
Grow Cayman Plants and encourage Cayman Wildlife! For more information, to share your knowledge or if you would like to get involved with the many activities in the National Trust’s Know Your Islands Program, please visit www.nationaltrust.org.ky, or call 949-0121.
Last week’s answer: The Magnificent Frigatebird is typically seen soaring over the Islands’ coasts and reefs, particularly over the fishermen in George Town.
Trivia question: What kinds of brooms are traditionally used to sweep the sand yards at Christmas time?
Look for the answer in next week’s feature!
The weekly column from the National Trust is submitted by Marnie Laing, Education Programs Manager at the Trust. The Trust can be contacted at 949-0121 or via email at [email protected]