Mangrove forests are a distinct saltwater woodland that thrive in tidal estuaries and low-energy coastal areas throughout the tropics and sub-tropics. Florida’s mangroves are typically found south of Cedar Key (Levy County) on the Gulf Coast and south of St. Augustine (St. Johns County) on the Atlantic Coast. They grow in coastal intertidal environments and are able to tolerate a wide range of saline waters, from nearly fresh to very high salt content in coastal waters. Florida’s mangrove forests primarily consist of four tree species: red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), black mangrove (Avicennia germinans), white mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa) and buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus). Red mangrove is found closest to and often growing in the water. They are easily identified by their red arching prop roots. The black mangrove is found further landward and can be identified by its distinct pneumatophores, which are dark, woody, fingerlike projections growing vertically from the soil. White mangroves occur at higher elevations than both the black and red mangroves and often lack visible roots. Buttonwood is considered an upland species because it typically grows above the area affected by tides. They can be identified by their button-like, or cone-shaped, fruit clusters. Buttonwood is not considered a true mangrove species because it lacks the distinctive reproductive and root characteristics of red, black, and white mangroves.
Mangrove forests are important because they provide critical habitat for adult fish and act as nursery habitat for juveniles. They also stabilize the shoreline and help prevent damages to coastal properties due to storm surge or erosion. Mangroves help maintain water quality and clarity by trapping sediments, absorbing nutrients, and removing pollutants from land that would otherwise end up in estuaries and the coastal ocean. Despite these benefits, human activities such as coastal development are responsible for destroying more mangrove forests worldwide than any other type of coastal habitat. While large extents of mangrove forest in Florida have been lost to coastal development, mangroves are now protected by law in Florida to prevent future losses of these important coastal habitats.