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Looking for a sustainable activity for your vacation in Martinique? The visit of the mangrove is a must. But what if you visited it differently?

A new gaze at the mangrove of Martinique

Frontier between land and sea, the mangrove has long been synonymous with impenetrable swamp forest, inhabited by myths and scary legends. 

However, the reality is quite different for this environment whose functions are essential to the balance of marine biodiversity. 

It is therefore essential to preserve it. And if sustainable tourism had its role to play?

This article has been written after our meeting with Délice Nouel, founder of Dénébola, an ecotourism agency in Martinique.

The mangrove, a unique and fascinating ecosystem

Mangrove de Martinique

The mangrove of Martinique ©️Dénébola

What is a mangrove? 

Mangrove de Martinique racines

The Mangrove is a low forest, a unique ecosystem where the roots of amazing trees called mangroves trees are entangled. They are the only trees able to grow in this amphibious environment. In the West Indies, there are four species:

  • The white mangrove tree
  • Black mangrove tree
  • The grey mangrove tree
  • The red mangrove tree. This last one is the most famous with its stilt roots that protrude from the water and give this so mystical side to the forest.

Reed mangrove tree ©️Canva

Where are these coastal forests?

Mangroves are present on the majority of the coasts of the tropical and subtropical zones of the world. Indeed, an annual sea water temperature of at least 20 degrees is required for these forests to develop. The mangrove of Martinique represents about 4% of the forest space of the island. 

Mangroves dans le monde

Mangroves in the world by ChandraGiri – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Mangroves, surprising trees

Pneumatophores Mangrove de Martinique

Between the lack of oxygen and the ebb and flow of the tide, mangroves have developed incredible capacities to adapt. Morphologically, their stilt roots allow them to better attach themselves to the earth to resist the swell in a muddy soil.

Physiologically, mangroves have developed lenticels (small pores) on their roots and their pneumatophores (aerial root outgrowths) in order to take oxygen from the air and thus breathe in an anoxic environment.

Pneumatophores ©️Canva

You now know what mangroves and their trees are. We will see now see their essentiality in our ecosystem.

From the importance of mangroves…

Délice Nouel

« There are many legends about the Mangrove in Martinique. It would be a magic forest where unhealthy manipulations and evil spells would be accomplished. At the time, it was a good argument to cut them down and urbanize them. The more we understand their essential functions for biodiversity, the more this view tends to change. With Dénébola, we tell the story of the mangrove to our passengers, we raise their awareness. » 

Nursery of an endangered fauna

Kingdom of crabs, refuge of numerous species of birds, crustaceans and fish, the mangrove of Martinique is a real reservoir of biodiversity. 

On the sea side

 The fishermen will tell you: “where there is mangrove, the fishing is always good”, explains Délice! 

The mangrove attracts fish that come to feed and reproduce, protected by the roots of mangroves. 

On the ground side

The mangrove is also the landmark of crabs. The fiddler crab, typical of this region of the globe, is recognizable thanks to the disproportionate claw of the males. They use it to fight and perform unique nuptial parades.  

Small geniuses of the construction, they dig their burrows on the roots of mangroves, thus helping them to oxygenate!

Mangrove de Martinique Crabe violoniste

Fiddler crab ©️Canva

“In Martinique, they also call it the “It’s my fault!” crab. With their big claw, it looks like they’re slapping their chest to apologize, as if they’re saying “it’s my fault!”

💡The ecotouristic tip of Dénébola :

“This crab hides immediately in the mud if you get closer than 5 meters. If you stay at a safe distance, it will gladly show off its big claw to give you an amazing choreographic ballet!”

Délice talks about the importance of protecting a species endemic to Martinique: the peyi iguana (iguana delicatissima). In critical danger of extinction, there would remain less than 1000 individuals. These iguanas like to feed on the red leaves of mangroves. Hence the importance of preserving the mangrove!

Mangrove de Martinique iguane délicatissima
Peyi Iguana (delicatissima), endemic to Martinique ©️Dénébola

For the record, in the 1950s, man introduced the common iguana (iguana iguana) to Martinique. By breeding with the delicatissimia, the dominant gene of the common iguana took over, causing the gradual disappearance of the small peyi.

💡The ecotouristic tip of Dénébola :

“Our tours allow to discover the islet Chancel. It is one of the only places in Martinique where the common iguana has not been introduced.  We aware the passengers of the protection of the delicatissima, particularly by learning to differentiate it from the common iguana.”

On the air side

How to talk about the mangrove without mentioning the birds that come to nest on the mangroves trees!

“In Martinique, we can observe the superb frigate bird, one of the largest seabirds, the herons and the caiali heron. It can be recognized by its pointed beak and its very particular call.

Héron Caiali

The caiali heron, a small green heron ©️Canva

The mangrove : a protective role for the coral reef

When it rains, the rainwater mechanically descends towards the sea. However, on its way, this water is loaded with sediments (earth, mud and waste). This is where the role of the filter comes into play! Before going to the sea, the water must pass through the mangrove. This one will retain the sediments so that the water enters the sea clear and cleaned.

« In the bay of Robert, where we sail, we see where the mangroves have been pruned. As soon as it rains, the swampy bottom of the bay turns brown. It’s far from the paradisiacal image one expects when coming to Martinique! » 

Why is this important?

Researchers have noticed that where mangroves have been cut, sedimentary rainwater entering the sea damages the corals.

Indeed, the coral draws its energy from a micro alga: the zooxanthella. It is this microalgae that produces photosynthesis, necessary for the survival of corals. But, the uncleaned water slows down this process. So, the coral bleaches and withers slowly. 

What consequences for marine biodiversity? Like the mangrove, the coral reef has a role of refuge. Some authors estimate that 30 to 40% of marine species need the presence of coral reefs to develop! 

Coraux Martinique
Coraux Martinique

Coral reef of Martinique ©️Dénébola

The mangrove : a protective role for the coastline

Facing the sea, the root tissue of the red mangrove absorbs the energy of the waves and thus slows down the erosion of the coastline. It is also a physical barrier during natural disasters.

Mangrove de Martinique

The sailing boat Dénébola in the bay of Robert in Martinique ©️Dénébola

The mangrove, a C02 sink

The mangrove captures and stores the carbon dioxide present in the air. This storage allows to decrease the concentration of C02 in the atmosphere. It is this same C02, also called greenhouse gas, which is at the origin of the climate change. So you understand the importance of preserving the mangrove! 

How does this storage work?

The soil of the mangrove is flooded, thus without oxygen. The decomposition of the organic matter in the soil is then very slow. Consequently, the mangrove can accumulate carbon for years and thus slow down the climate change!

… To the preservation of this ecosystem

The surge of sewage and agricultural fertilizers alters the capacity of mangroves to store C02. Mangroves are also the scene of illegal dumping. Plastic can damage the pneumatophores and thus prevent the mangroves from oxygenating. 

The role of sustainable tourism

As you know, at Flockeo, we are interested in sustainable tourism. So we ask Délice how sustainable tourism can help preserve this ecosystem? 

Dénébola proposes you to visit the bay of Robert by sailboat. On the way, discover the islet Chancel to discover the mangrove of Martinique on the sea side! 

This point of view allows to see how the mangrove preserves the coral reef and how the latter protects the mangrove from the heckling of the swell.

« The flow of tourists causes trampling. The hanging of the boats on the roots of the mangroves ends up breaking them. In addition, the sea trip often rhymes with a festive moment. In these moments, we are less attentive to the advice of the guides and the music disturbs the biodiversity! When I created Dénébola in 2009, I wanted to find a more respectful way to discover my island. » 

Délice sur son voilier

Stroll in the bay of Robert with Dénébola ©️Dénébola

⛵ Our 5 good reasons to discover the mangrove of Martinique with Dénébola :

A discovery under sail, without engine noise 

And without music, lulled by the sounds of nature

We are offered explanations on marine ecosystems

Accompanied by passionate guides

You can observe the mangrove from the bottom of the sea during a palm walk

Towards a better future

Over the last 30-40 years, we have lost a little more than 30% of the surface of mangroves. Fortunately, more and more studies point out the importance of these ecosystems for coastal environments. 

Today, organizations and scientists are fighting for its preservation.

More and more tourist agencies like Dénébola are putting awareness and learning at the heart of their actions. We too, as travelers, professionals of sustainable tourism, have our role to play. 

The fight to save the mangroves is not over. There is still a lot to do and to learn, especially on the replanting of mangroves where they have been pruned. 

We must continue to study, transmit and raise awareness, to better protect. 

⛵ Learn more about Denebola⛵

Dénébola was founded by Délice Nouel in 2009. Born in Martinique into a family of sailors, she has been immersed in sailing since her childhood. With Dénébola, she offers you to (re) discover the pleasures of sailing, without music, without engine, in small group. 

In 2019, Dénébola obtains the “quality tourism” label for its involvement in biodiversity-friendly tourism.

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