A large number of tourists come to Maldives every year to enjoy white sandy beaches, crystal blue lagoon and sumptuous resort. As explained in our previous articles there is so much more to explore/see in Maldives and mangrove is one of the beautiful natural attraction too often omitted by tourists when visiting the country.
It is estimated that 12% of Maldives 1200 islands has mangrove ecosystem. Mangroves usually tend to be found in enclosed or semi enclosed slightly salty water, in muddy areas and even sometimes along the island lagoons.
There are 2 types of mangrove ecosystem in Maldives: the close mangrove system and open mangrove system.
The close mangrove system can encircle a brackish water pond (kulhi) . In this case mangroves colonize and expand around the standing water in the floor depression.
Mangrove can also grow in a swamp/muddy environment. The floor receives salty water through its connection to the ocean leaving the surface wet and creating the mangrove habitat. Swamp mangrove can be found in FumaVulha.
Open mangrove system can be fully exposed to the ocean. Shore mangrove, also called fringing mangrove, is pretty rare in Maldives as it is normally found in protected and rocky coastlines. The best example being located in Goidhoo island.
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Another type of open mangrove and the most common in Maldives is the LEARNembayment system, a mangrove partially surrounding a small bay and subject to tidal flow. This mangrove ecosystem can be found in K.Huraa island (north Male/kaafu atoll ).
This unique fragile environment is very important to the atolls islands and ecosystems. Mangroves filter salt, nutrients, sand and protect reef around the island, corals and prevent algae development.
Mangroves also act as a barrier against storms, tidal waves and tsunami. In 2004 Tsunami disaster, islands with mangrove restrained the tidal waves before hitting the properties. Islands with mangroves suffered less from the tsunami as power of the waves was absorbed by stratum of mangroves and through crab holes. Casualties and destruction in some islands during this natural disaster could have been much worse without the mangrove presence.
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Mangroves provide a vital shelter for breeding, nesting and resting for resident birds in Maldives and also an important stopover for birds during their migration.
Mangroves not only provide shelter for birds but also for crustaceans and fish. Milk fish is found in brackish water of Maldivian Mangroves and is a food supplement for the local population. Crabs, molluscs, shrimps are also commonly found in mangrove swamps but local population do not consume them. Crabs are fundamental part of the mangrove ecology, influencing both nutrient cycling and forest constitution by flow of water through crab holes.
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Mangroves ecosystems are not only essential for their ecological importance but also for their social and economical value. Mangroves provide islanders with timber used for boat building, house construction and firewood. Clay from the kulhi is used to make pots, fruits from some trees are consumed by locals and also crushed and dried to make coloring for the fishing line.
Unfortunately, few people in the Maldives understand the importance of mangrove and no proper regulation are in place to conserve this vital atoll ecosystem. Nowadays only two Mangrove sites Eidhigali kulhi, S. Hithadhoo of Addu Atoll and Kaafu Huraa are declared protected and some mangrove areas across the Maldives archipelago have unfortunately been destroyed by reclamation for housing, tourism, agriculture and commercial purposes.
Mangrove is a must-see for all avid eco-tourists having the chance to visit the country. We strongly recommend you to visit this unique and fragile ecosystem before it is too late. You will surely be fascinated with the abundance of rich flora and fauna and the beauty of this natural ecosystem.
Article sources :
-> AHMED SALEEM & AMINATH NILEYSHA Characteristics, status and need for conservation of mangrove ecosystems in the Republic of Maldives, Indian Ocean