angroves exist along most of the coastlines of the British Virgin Islands.

Cane Garden Bay Mangroves by Allison L. Williams Hill

Mangroves' root systems along saline coastlines  provide habitats and nurseries for fishes and birds. The roots extend out from the trunks like fingers. Sea grass grows among the roots providing more cover for juvenile fish, stabilize the seabed, and filtering runoff. Usually located in the tropical and shallowest parts of the sea, near the coast, sea grass resembles a prairie of land grass.

Young mangroves growing along a boardwalk at Paraquita Bay, created by Clive Petrovic.

Mangroves, are critical for traditional food sources for British Virgin Islanders. Pot fish, or fish that is captured in cages, like yellowtail, trigger fish, red snapper, red hind, and blue runner; doctor; old wife;tang, butterfish, triggerfish, parrot (you can make great jewelry from thier scales), and shell fish (whose skin is quite hard for a fish) grow up among mangrove roots and are caught when they are older.

Types of Mangroves

Four types of mangroves have recognizable differences.

Red Mangroves (Rhizophora mangle)have tangled, reddish roots. Technically prop roots extend three feet  or more above the surface of the soil, They increase stability of the tree supply oxygen to the underground roots. Red mangroves can grow as tall as thirty feet.

A dedicated marine biologist. Julie Overing, showed us at the Town and Country Planning Department what a red mangrove individual looked like. It reminded me of a locust seed pod but was thin. It was planted in a split plastic tube as part of the mangrove restoration program. As the seedling grows, it requirement for protection and support from its "cocoon" reduces. The split allows for expansion and it ultimately breaks away. Typically,  seedlings germinate while still attached to the tree and remain there to  ensure its survival.  Others may be carried to other locations by the currents.

Soul Portrait by Allison L. Williams Hill

Black Mangroves, or Avicennia germinans,have long horizontal roots and pneumatophores. Its roots are exposed to air. The root system can be easily identified because of hollow tube that allow oxygen to get to underground roots. These can grow to over sixty five feet, more than twice as high as red mangroves. Black mangroves have dark, scaly bark and produce white flowers. Seedlings also germinate while still attached to the parent tree enabling higher survival rates.
White Mangroves have a different root system. They grow in soil up to fifty feet. It has broad, flat yellow-green leaves and produce geen-white flowers.
Buttonwood mangroves got their name from the button-like appearance of the dense greenish flower heads that form cone-like fruits. Buttonwoods produce seed cases.

Dr. Shannon Gore (Conservation and Fisheries Department), Cindy Rolli (Town and Country Planning Department), and Dr. Lianna Jarekci (H. Lavitty Stout Community College, Paraquita Bay, Tortola)  during a break at a BVI government multi-department workshop, 2003.

Paraquita Bay Lagoon by Allison L. Williams Hill is under the authority of Disaster Preparedness and Conservation and Fisheries Department. The vessels are in this waterway surrounded by mangroves for protection during hurricane season.

Mangroves in the British Virgin Islands

I worked at the Town and Country Planning Department as a physical planner. The department interfaced with other departments like Conservation and Fisheries, to construct a physical plan. The coastline was the first line of defense for a hurricane.  Coral reefs and mangroves reduce wind velocity that diminishes the impact on physical structures on land. Dr. Lianna Jerecki did a study of the coral reefs along the coastlines of the 52 islands that comprise the territory. She documented their decline and the same thing was happening to mangrove stands. Conservation and Fisheries was concerned about sustaining mangrove stands, their ability to protect juveniles so that local fishermen have fish to extract over time.

Parrot fish, above, eat dead coral. In an online article, Why You Should Stop Eating Parrot Fish, Netizen Raises Public Awareness, reminds us that  a school of them excrete "...sand amounting to 200 pounds each year!" They also consume algae keeping water surfaces clear. The janitors of the sea, the parrot fish should be appreciated for more than their colorful scales and tasty flesh.

Pot Fish From the Mangroves

I have made several of the local fish for meals. There was a fish store owned by government where fishermen sold their catches. In the last two years we were there, they sold gutted fish. That saved a lot of time. I learned to clean fish using lime to whiten the flesh. It was cool to descale parrot fish because their scales were so colorful. Local women made jewelry with them. 

Merge with Krishna by Allison L. Williams Hill

I seasoned the fish with salt; pepper, garlic and maybe other condiments then I stuffed them with onions and peppers. I may wrap them up with aluminum foil. I make it a point to not use foil after reports of what it does to food.  The fish was tasty and the flesh was firm, held flavor and it was easily adaptable to a variety of dishes.  Stores sold local fish fried. I never prepared it that way.


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