More than just water moves in and out with the tides. If you walk along the coast at low tide, whether you are near the ocean or the intracoastal, the water will leave behind a troubling portrait of its health, as if asking for help or even mercy.
Moving with the currents is the trash that ends up in the waters, whether it originated directly from the beaches, from marine vessels, or from even further inland.
Below you will see a small snapshot of what is occurring in the mangrove ecosystem.
This photo was taken along the mangrove boardwalk at Gumbo Limbo Environmental Complex in Boca Raton. Each red rectangle shows a piece of trash that was deposited in the mangroves. In one small frame, we were able to capture nine pieces of trash.
You see a chunk of styrofoam in the top left corner, and aluminum cans and plastic bottles strewn about. These are some of the absolute worst things that can be thrown into the ocean because of their low decomposition rates. (It takes a small styrofoam cup about 50 years to decompose; 200 years for an aluminum can to decompose; 450 years for a plastic bottle to decompose.)
More than likely these were deposited here indirectly, meaning that someone probably wasn’t sitting in the mangroves drinking beer and bottled water. These were pushed into the mangroves and left behind by the high tide.
The mangroves are home to many creatures, from birds to foxes, from crabs to spiders. They are safe houses for fish, crustaceans, and shellfish to reproduce. Snapper, snook, tarpon, jack, sheepshead, oyster, shrimp, and many other valuable marine species find their food amongst the mangroves. Pelicans and other coastal birds use the branches of the mangroves as their rookeries.
What would you do if your neighbor put his or her trash on your lawn, instead of in the proper receptacle? Even if it was just a couple of cans, or a plastic bottle? You wouldn’t stand for it, so why should we stand for this treatment of a valuable ecosystem?
Mangroves are important, fragile ecosystems that help protect coastal regions from erosion. Mangrove roots naturally filter the water from pollutants, but in no way can they self-regulate the trash that accumulates there.
Poisoning the mangroves with human waste will lead to the imminent destruction of many already endangered species who call the mangroves home, such as the following:
- American Crocodile
- Atlantic Ridley Sea Turtle
- Atlantic Salt Marsh Snake
- Barbados Yellow Warbler
- Brown Pelican
- Hawksbill Sea Turtle
- Eastern Indigo Snake
- Key Deer
- Peregrine Falcon
- Southern Bald Eagle
- West Indian Manatee
So… what can you do to help protect the mangroves?
While you will see the occasional soda can, most cans you will see are beer cans. This happens because many people are drinking on the beach or on their boats, and when they become drunk, they begin to give little regard to the environment (amongst other things). Before you start drinking, have a trash disposal plan. Make sure you bring bio-degradable trash bags with you to the beach or put some on your boat. If you have a cooler, put the empties in there so that when you return home, you can properly sort and dispose your recyclables.
To minimize plastic bottles in the mangroves, use a reusable water bottle that you will take home with you instead of throwing it into the abyss.
Abandon the out of sight, out of mind mentality. Nothing in this world just disappears, not your problems, and definitely not your trash.
Friends don’t let friends become enemies of the environment. If you see your friend engaging in behavior that is hazardous to the environment, say, “Hey, friend, why don’t you throw that can over here to me, and I’ll throw it away for you?” If you don’t, then you are guilty by association.
Think of the critters. Think of the baby chicks waiting for their parent to return to the nest with food, their cute little chirps, their eyes not yet open. Mama bird returns home, and as she goes to regurgitate the food into the hungry beaks of her chicklets, she chokes, she screams, she squawks. She falls over dead because she choked on a piece of trash, leaving her innocent little babies hungry and vulnerable to the mangrove predators.
Our lives will come and go, and our trash and litter will remain. Leave more to your legacy than plastic bottles and aluminum cans.
Let’s all work to protect the mangroves and its inhabitants.