World Wetlands Day: Fascinating Facts about Galapagos Mangroves

Today, February 2nd, is World Wetlands Day. The date commemorates the signing of the Ramsar convention, an international treaty in which 169 parties have pledged to protect and preserve wetlands all over the world.

Swimming by the mangroves at Concha de Perla in southern Isabela Island Photo credit: El Diario

Swimming by the mangroves at Concha de Perla in southern Isabela Island
Photo credit: El Diario

Galapagos wetlands are mangrove forests. A large area of mangroves along the southern coast of Isabela Island has even been designated by RAMSAR as a Wetland of International Importance. Galapagos mangroves are a biologically fascinating and ecologically important species. In honor of World Wetlands Day, we give you 5 fascinating facts about this crucial wetlands species.

1. Mangroves thrive in salty water.

Mangrove forests grow in water that is 100 times saltier than what most other trees can survive in.
Mangroves have adapted filtering capabilities to be able to eliminate the salt from the water they grow in before absorbing it. The different species of mangroves use different mechanisms to do the job. For example, the roots of the Galapagos mangroves (that is, red mangroves) are salt impermeable: They block the salt from entering the tree in the first place. Other species of mangroves are able to expel salt through their old leaves before shedding them. Another factor that helps to eliminate salt is that mangrove branches tend to be vertical. The salt is filtered out as the water travels through the branch and only fresh water reaches the leaves. The white mangrove even has salt glands at the base of each leaf to directly secrete salt from the plant.

2. Galapagos mangrove trees are likely to be thousands of years old.

The volcanic environment that hosts Galapagos mangrove forests is nutrient poor. The trees grow out of lava fields, incrementally over long periods of time. A fully developed habitat of mangroves may have been growing for thousands of years.

Red mangroves growing out of lava fields on Fernandina Island

Red mangroves growing out of lava fields on Fernandina Island

3. Mangroves breathe through their roots.

Mangrove root structures grow in twisted looping formations that are actually above ground. Mangrove roots are covered in pneumatophores, pores that help the plant process oxygen. The water and mud that the plants grow in is often oxygen-poor,  so their roots are able to absorb oxygen more efficiently directly through the air.

4. Mangroves come in four types: red, black, white, and button.

The black mangrove has the highest salt tolerance. It can be identified by its short aerial roots, and small tentacle roots that grow up the side of the tree.
The most common mangrove in the Galapagos is the red mangrove. They can be identified by their reddish bark and tend to grow in low tidal areas. This species of mangrove is used to make charcoal.
White mangroves have stilted roots and pneumatophores. The name comes from their delicate white flowers.
Buttonwood mangroves are not genetically classified as true mangroves, but they share many of the same characteristic. This species tends to grow in higher elevation mangrove habitats, and also have root systems that grow above ground.
The gardens of Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel are made up of buttonwood mangroves.

The gardens of the Finch Bay Galapagos hotel are made up of buttonwood mangroves. World Wetlands Day

The gardens of the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel are made up of buttonwood mangroves.

5. Mangroves are important for maintaining the health of coastal ecosystems.

Mangroves are important elements of coastal ecosystems. Mangrove forests provide a welcoming and nutrient rich environment for plankton. As a result, the waters that surround mangroves are ideal breeding grounds for penguins, turtles, sharks, rays, fish, and other creatures. Mangrove roots also provide protective structures for local inhabitants, reducing the risk of attacks from large predators and decreasing the impact of waves by as much as 75%.
Take advantage of your visit to the Galapagos Islands to see these beautiful and unique plants. Fernandina Island, Tortuga Bay, and Northern Floreana are great places to see red, white, and black mangroves! The beach area surrounding Finch Bay is also a great place to take a peaceful walk around an see different mangrove species.
World Wetlands Day is the perfect opportunity to take a moment to appreciate the unique ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands. Plan your visit to Galapagos today!

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Writer, translator. Enthusiastic traveler of Ecuador and the Galapagos.

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