Manatees and Mangroves
The mangroves of this ecoregion are guardians of the coastline. They protect the beaches from erosion during tropical storms. One reason to protect this ecoregion is that it contains the largest population in the world of West Indian manatees. This ecoregion also overlaps with the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve system--the second largest barrier reef in the world (after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia). The cayes here (pronounced "keys"), covered with mangroves, are important habitats for red-footed and brown boobies, common noddies, laughing gulls, and several migratory birds.
These mangroves that grow on cayes are associated with a 136-mile (220-km) barrier reef and three large coral atolls, as well as sea grass beds and coastal lagoons. Annual rainfall ranges from 55 inches (1,400 mm) in the north to more than 157 inches (4,000 mm) in the south, with the rainy season lasting from October to February and the hurricane season from August to October. Mangrove species include red mangroves, black mangroves, and white mangroves with buttonwood trees found along the boundaries of inland swamps and wetlands.
The coastal zone of this ecoregion contains more than 280 species of birds, including red-footed boobies, roseate spoonbills, common noddies, great blue and green herons, white-crowned pigeons, great and snowy egrets, white ibises, and several species of terns. Other birds that stop here occasionally include Yucatan parrots, brown jays, laughing gulls, white-winged doves, and magnificent frigate birds. Birds share the swamps with a variety of reptiles, including boa constrictors, American crocodiles, Morelet’s crocodiles, and iguanas. Sea turtles are holding their own here. The green, hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback, and Kemp’s ridley turtles all visit the sandy beaches annually to deposit their eggs.
Cause for Concern
Current threats include overfishing, sedimentation, sewage, chemical runoff, shoreline erosion following mangrove removal for development, and unregulated expansion of tourism. Anticipated problems include those associated with development of aquaculture, oil exploration, and further coastal development. Because of human settlement and development, the laughing gull no longer nests on Laughing Bird Caye. Breeding colonies of the red-footed booby on Half-Moon Caye and the common noddy on Glover’s Reef are similarly threatened.
For more information on this ecoregion, go to the World Wildlife Fund Scientific Report.All text by World Wildlife Fund © 2001