Mangroves on Utila


The island of Utila isn’t a big one; at about 11 km long and 4 km across at its widest point, it’s

the smallest of the Honduran Bay Islands. It mainly consists of mangroves, partially submerged,

swamp-like forests that smell a little like an outhouse and that are nearly impossible to pass

through except the occasional narrow channel. Over half of the island is covered with

them, all the way from the west end to the edge of Utila town, which comparatively takes up only

a small portion of the island. These forests are often found between the sea and the shoreline

all over the world, and in most places their destruction has several negative impacts.

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At times these mangroves seem like a nuisance, they don’t smell good and they restrict access

to most parts of the island. Knowing this information one would think that it would probably

be beneficial to get rid of them, cut them down and develop the land. However, without the

mangroves Utila as we know it would not exist. The mangroves are one of, if not the most

important aspects to Utila’s reef system. These mangroves protect the island from storms and

also are extremely important to Utila’s economy, not only to the fishermen who need the fish that

the mangrove protects and allows to grow, but also to the booming dive businesses who need

the fish to continue attracting divers to the reef.

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A recent study found that there are 25 times more fish in these mangroves than out on the reef,

they serve as a valuable nursing ground for most species of reef fish and invertebrates. This

habitat provides protection from predation for young fishes and also provides the fish with food

as it’s a valuable nursery for shrimp, crustaceans and smaller fish that feed the larger fish.

Utila’s mangroves now face the problem that many mangroves across the world are struggling

with, destruction for land development. Land on coastlines of islands is a prized commodity,

everybody wants their own little piece of paradise. Unfortunately many of the pictures that we

see advertised are unrealistic, showing perfect white sand beaches with villas and beach bars,

no washed up seagrass or unsightly mangroves. In reality to get these white sand beaches

sand will either have to be brought in or cleared of washed up seagrass that protects the land

from erosion and reduces sedimentation in the water, as well as the removal of mangroves

close to the coastline drastically altering the nursing habits of hundreds of species.

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Mangroves in Utila are destroyed at an unsustainable rate. The west end of the island, which is

primarily dominated by mangrove forests, is being cleared for the building of properties to attract

more tourists to the island. It’s a tricky problem seeing as the island needs tourists to support

the local economy, but without the mangroves the species attracting the tourists are threatened

and their numbers will decline, so a happy medium needs to be found between the destruction

and protection of the mangroves.