Turtles in the Tides
This ecoregion contains the most extensive sea grass beds in the world, which are a source of food and refuge for a large portion of the population of endangered green sea turtles. Mangroves play an important role in trapping sediments carried from the land by the many river systems. These sediments would be detrimental to the development of both offshore coral reefs and sea grass beds, which are closely associated with mangroves. Coastal wetlands, bamboo forests, coral reefs, and Raffia palm forests are just a few of the other types of habitats found here.
The sparseness and patchy distribution of mangroves in this system are probably due to the dominance of freshwater during the rainy season. Rainfall can be as high as 196 inches (5,000 mm) a year in certain areas, with rainfall levels at their peak in the warm months between May and September. A relatively dry season occurs from January to April. In several places, such as inland lagoons on Corn Island, drainage and access to the ocean is often blocked by sand dunes, which are sometimes broken through by rushing water after heavy rains. The area is also periodically disturbed by hurricanes, which may result in a die-off of all coastal mangroves, although they do regenerate over time. This keeps them relatively young and small in stature along the ocean.
The mangroves are home to dozens of colorful bird species. Roseate spoonbills, white-fronted parrots, blue winged teals, anhingas, common black hawks, green-backed herons, snowy egrets, wood storks, and many other species are common in mangroves. Other birds that might visit the ecoregion include scarlet macaws, black terns, green kingfishers, ospreys, brown pelicans, a variety of plovers and sandpipers, and several parrots, parakeets, and hummingbirds. Mammals are similarly varied. Here, jaguars and ocelots prowl the inland, dryer areas, while black-mantled howler monkeys and white-faced capuchins travel across the tree limbs overhead. In addition to the endangered green sea turtle, other reptiles include the occasional hawksbill turtle, and the more common iguana, boa constrictor, and American crocodile.
Cause for Concern
Global climate change could be contributing to an increase in the frequency of destructive hurricanes and other tropical storms in this ecoregion. Hurricanes are normally expected every 50 years, but they have struck the Corn Islands three times in the past eight years. Timber extraction, mining, altered hydrology related to development, pesticide and sediment runoff, ranching, and subsistence agriculture on steep slopes are causes for concern as well.
For more information on this ecoregion, go to the World Wildlife Fund Scientific Report.All text by World Wildlife Fund © 2001