Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Mangrove Forest Ecosystem Along the Chiquimulilla Channel

This approximately 150 kilometers long natural channel, better known as Canal de Chiquimulilla, runs paralel to the Pacific Ocean shoreline and goes from the municipality La Gomera in Escuintla, across the Santa Rosa department, to the Jutiapa department, right on the border with the neighbor country, El Salvador.
Because of its length, the channel could be considered as the largest biodiversity container in Guatemala’s Pacific area.
The area located in Monterrico was declared a protected reserve in 1977, and since then, it has been a center for conservationist studies. The protected reserve includes the estuary zone, where the mangrove forest prevails, and several rivers and lagoons that constantly change the water salinity.
The main purpose of the reserve is to protect the wild diversity of fauna and flora from deforestation, water contamination, and hunting. Some of the most endangered fauna species are the Crocodilus fuscus (caiman), the Iguana iguana (green iguana), the Dermochelys coriacea (leather-back turtle, also known as baula), the Lepidochelys olivacea (Olive ridley turtle, also known as Pacific ridley and parlama blanca), and the Chelonia agassizii or Chelonia Sp (also known as parlama negra).
As for the flora, it has been noted that the main composition is based on trees, vines, water grasses, and epiphytes. The most endangered are the three species of mangrove: Rizophora mangle (red), Laguncularia racemosa (white), and Avicennia germinans (black). Still common in the area are botoncillo, guachimol, pachira, thypha, nymphaea, luffa, neptunia, among others.
The aquatic vegetation in the channel depends on the rainy climate cycle, which starts in June. During this cycle, the rivers Maria Linda, Rio Hondo, and Coyolate among others, feed the channel and reduce the water salinity, allowing the growth of aquatic plants with low salinity tolerance.
From June to November, the aquatic vegetation provides refuge and food for several animals. The flowers of the Nymphaea and Eichornia attract lots of insects, which constitute food for fish, amphibious, reptiles, and birds. The large extension of Thypha (reed, also known as tul) provides refuge to crocodiles and is the turtles' main source of food. According to the local guides, turtles like to rummage around the base of the plants in search for tuber roots, rich in starches.
At the end of December, the water flow entering from the sea becomes stronger and the low salinity tolerant vegetation dies leaving in its place almost nothing but the mangrove forest, showing its fullest splendor!


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