Where the land meets the sea and the salty ocean mixes with the fresh water, marine and terrestrial life must live together. This results in a region where a wide variety of animals exist in harmony, but where only a special type of plant life can thrive. The main flora in these salty terrestrial swamps are referred to commonly as mangroves and they comprise over 70 different species adapted to dealing with water that would kill land-dwelling plants or oceanic seaweeds.
Mangroves range from small shrubs to leviathan 200-foot trees and are only found in tropical or sub-tropical coastal regions. Most of the world's mangrove forests or swamps are found within 30 degrees of the world's equator with only a few more hardy varieties found a little further south. The northern coast of Australia, southeast Asia and the southeastern U.S. possess the largest mangrove forests.
Thick heat, choking mud and intense salt levels define the mangrove's natural habitat and, like the animal life, they thrive in these conditions. The mangrove plants have all developed a way to either block or filter out the salt from the water they need to survive. The massive trees have evolved roots that hold the trunk above the water level and keep it solid in the soft mud. Thin, buttress-style roots stop the trees from being washed away or blown over in the intense tropical storms that often batter the swamps.
The vast forests of mangroves provide shelter and sustenance for a wide variety of life. Fauna such as fish, crustaceans and crocodiles are found below the surface, while birds, monkeys and reptiles thrive in the branches of the trees. As the fresh water makes its run to the ocean, the sediments it carries get trapped in the root systems of the mangroves, gradually building mudflats. These mud banks form to create fertile new land and the very roots that anchor this land also work to protect it from from the erosive power of the sea.
The mangrove plants are not all related, many of them are actually adapted forms of terrestrial plants such as palms, holly, legumes and myrtles. Around 12 different plant families are represented in the mangrove forests worldwide, which makes for diverse ecosystems that not only support nature but offer money making opportunities for humans.
Exploitation of these mangrove swamps has led to them becoming threatened. Areas cleared to create salt pans, aquaculture ponds and residential developments are starting to limit these natural wonders in some areas. These attempts at progress often backfire on developers; the clearing of these natural barriers leaves some areas vulnerable to surging tidal waters, especially spots that are prone to Tsunamis, such as Asia. Mangroves are amazing plants that form astonishing ecosystems that need to be protected and respected.