OLD POINT REGIONAL PARK
In the San Andres archipelago, there exists important ecosystems, like the barrier reef, intertidal zones, soft bottoms, and seagrass beds, but the most important are the mangroves.
Mangrove forests are formations of plants that develop a resistance to saline coastal environments and low oxygen soil. They have developed a variety of morphological, physiological, and reproductive adaptations that allow them to survive and reproduce. A normal plant would die in this environment in a few days, practically burned by salt, dehydrated and suffocated.
Some of its major adaptations are:
- The presence of silt roots
- Leaves with salt secreting glands
- Lenticels or breathing pores on aerial roots
- Specialized roots or pneumatophores
- High production of seeds, which germinate attached to the plant and have the ability to float for several weeks or months
IMPORTANCE AND BENEFIT OF MANGROVES
Mangrove ecosystems subsidize mass and energy to other systems (coral reefs and grasslands). They are detoxifying agents and trap sediments which act as natural contaminants; they contribute to improving water quality; act as flood shock absorbers; provide fish breeding grounds; protect the shoreline by preventing erosion and helping to stabilize beaches by dissipating the force of the wind and waves, thus reducing potential damage to coastal areas and populations. Mangroves provide a large amount of ecological, economic, environmental, and social benefits and services, among which are:
- They act as areas of refuge, breeding, feeding, and nesting for many species of animals.
- They act as temporary nurseries and habitats for juvenile stages for a number of species, which then move to adjacent ecosystems such as seagrass beds, coastal lagoons, and coral reefs as adults.
- They produce a high volume of organic matter.
- They trap sediment with their roots, which helps to stabilize the soil, thereby protecting the coastline from erosion caused by wind and tides.
- They help control flooding.
Mangroves also play a strategic role as a resource for many different populations, providing means of subsistence in several ways:
- Fishing, as they act as a nursery to various species, ensuring food security for the human population.
- The environment provides a valuable natural ecosystem that serves to promote education and research activities.
- It provides a great opportunity for recreation and tourism.
OLD POINT REGIONAL PARK
Located in the northeast section of the San Andres island, Old Point Regional Park is a magnificent mangrove ecosystem teeming with life and a high biodiversity. It is made up of land and coastal areas, and, in the marine zone where Hooker and Heins Bight bays are located, you can notice the stunning red mangroves.
Here you can find dry tropical forest, mangrove and marine-based forests, seagrass meadows, algae communities, and a blackwater lagoon. On dry land, one can find dry, semi moist and submerged areas, depending on the tides and time of year. These ecosystems are some of the largest producers of organic matter, which when it decomposes with the combination of brackish water and high humidity causes a unique odor due to hydrogen sulfide. The soils in these areas are poorly ventilated and maintain a grayish or black color. In the semi submerged areas, you can find iguanas, fiddler crabs, black and white crabs, reptiles like blue and green lizards, gekkos, Ichilis or roco, wolf and coyote boas, Anancy spiders, and the elusive tailless scorpion among others. In some pools of brackish water you can find fish that have adapted to these places.
Regarding the vegetation in the land areas, you can find trees like Yarumo, seedlings, dogwood, sea grape, wild mangrove, machineel apple, mango, bromeliads, orchid, and in the Rocky Point area of the island, coconut trees.
For bird lovers, both the terrestrial and aquatic mangroves offer us the ability to observe, among other local birds, the San Andres vireo, Wish-Wish, White crowned pigeon, White winged dove, eagles, herons, Man at War, pelicans, and among migratory birds, the mangrove queen warbler, mangrove cuckoo, Jamaican oriole, Canadian ducks and swallows.
The bird that best identifies the mangrove forests is the Man at War. Beautiful, silent birds, they are one of the few marine bird species that cannot get wet, because they lack the oil gland that can protect their wings against moisture. If it were to fall into the water, it could drown. Local sailors and fishermen can predict the weather by observing these birds during their flight formation. They fish without touching the water, but their strategy is generally to steal food from other birds, thus making them true pirate birds.
These are the most important ecosystems and that have the highest density in the Park. There are 4 species: Red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle); Black mangrove (Avicennia germinans); White mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa); and Button mangrove (Conocarpus erectus).
The red mangrove in particular provides many benefits due to a substance called tannin, which can be found in its roots. It was once used in dentistry as an astringent, for tanning hides, in liquor production for its bitter taste, and as a dye component in the preparation of tea.
On the stilt roots of the red mangroves, many different species of animals live with their nests or as a shelter from predators. Some of the species living here are flat oysters, crustaceans, snails, different types of sponges including the dreaded fire sponge, some brown and green algae, spider crabs, the territorial stone crab, box crabs and other crabs such as Grapsidae, and the filtering crustaceans called "lepas". Protected within the roots, you can find some species of fish in their juvenile stages such as, beautiful shoals of sardines, barracudas, doctors, four eyed butterflies, balloon fish, sargeants, parrotfish, snook, tarpon, etc.
Also close to the patches of mangroves, in the tunnels or banks that they form, you can find sea hares (Aplysia) that emit ink when threatened, like the octopus; fire worms (Hermodice carunculata); and beautiful Christmas tree worms. Only the expert eye can find the mangrove jellyfish worm (Iomia), as their thinness and transparency makes them hard to spot. It is also difficult to spot the rare Sharptail eel. In the sandy seabed and prairie grasses, you can find volcano shaped formations, formed by the shrimp Thalassinidea.
Inside the clear waters of Heins Bight Bay, protected from waves and wind, there are numerous communities of large inverted anemones (upside down jellyfish), like the Cassiopea xamachana and Cassiopea frondosa, with bright colors and a majestic presence. These families of jellyfish and anemones live in perfect harmony with the algae attached to them, called zoozanthellas, which also lives on the coral below. These algae provide the jellyfish with food through the process of photosynthesis, which no longer need to hunt or use their stinging tentacles, which have become much less powerful. Because of this, the jellyfish lives upside down, using its tentacles to provide a light source for the algae.
Marine grass meadows
The meadows are formed by different types of vegetation called sea grass, including Thalassia (manatee grass) and Syringodium (turtle grass), and a very small portion of grass called Halophila decipiens and Halodule wrightii.
In these immense meadows and shallow waters, you can find white and black urchins, starfish, sea cucumbers, anemones like Bartholomea annulata and Condidactea gigantea, tube worms, shrimp, eagle rays, small patches of corals like porites and the lonely Manicina aerolata or pink coral, which when flipped by waves fills with air and straightens again. Snorkeling over these meadows in calm waters at night with a full moon above is a beautiful show of fluorescent organisms swimming below.
At the Old Point mangrove forest, depending on the time of year, different varieties of marine species arrive with the sea currents, like the beautiful and dangerous Portuguese man of war and Blue Button (Porpita porpita). The two are often mistaken for jellyfish, but are actually different varieties of the Cnidarians species. The Portuguese man of war floats due to a sail shaped pouch filled with air, and whereby its tentacles are filled with nematocysts that produce an extremely poisonous toxin.
Some colonies of algae are mostly found in Heins Bight, including Halimedas, a species of calcareous algae whose leaves have formed the sandy bottoms in this area. This type of sand is very different than coral sand. Other types of algae observed in the roots of the mangroves are penicillus, Walloon, and Turbinaria, which formed the sandy bottom and roots in the mangrove forests.