Strolling through the Mangroves

DSC_0159In my continuing adventures in the Yucatan Peninsula, I took a leisurely stroll in a mangrove swamp located just outside the coastal town of Puerto Progreso.

“But Paul,” you say. “Aren’t mangroves a tangled, impenetrable thicket growing in smelly, squishy, salty mud?”

Yes indeed! But THIS one has been adopted by the locals, and made into a popular tourist attraction (really!!). Let’s have a look.

DSC_0155We start at the visitors center, located on a busy road at the edge of Progreso. I took a taxi from the bus terminal downtown.

A couple of bucks and a five-minute boat ride gets you the easiest and most fun visit in mangroves you will ever have. The reserve has a channel cut into the swamp and a dock where your boat pulls up for your convenience. Step out onto a hard-packed, dry path through the swamp. You can walk right up to these amazing trees with their pyramid of trunks and roots…and never get your feet wet. Signs guide you around the site; benches and restrooms are available for your comfort. Heck, you can even buy bottled water or rent a hammock!

But most people come to visit the cenotes. These freshwater pools are formed by the unique geology of the Yucatan: the whole peninsula is a flat limestone shelf, with scattered holes revealing the water table below. Here, that fresh groundwater happens to spring forth in an otherwise salty mangrove swamp! These cenotes are all beautiful, and you may swim in three of the four (and perhaps birdwatch at the other).

The whole site is beautiful and comfortable. The local residents have created a fun, accessible attraction that is inexpensive and fun for the whole family. I heard about it in the local tourism magazine (Yucatan Today), and I hope it gains more notoriety and visitors. I want people to visit the swamp! I want folks here to benefit from these wetlands.

Regular readers of this blog know that wetlands are hard-working ecosystems, providing tangible benefits (cleaner water, reduced downstream flooding, a safer climate…) every day. The wetland’s neighbors may not receive as great a share of those benefits; how do we make sure they truly benefit, too? Those employed at this facility would obviously have something to say in that regard. But I also pondered other benefits as I dined on the beach at Progreso. These shrimp I enjoyed eating came from the water nearby; they were part of a food chain supported by…you guessed it, inputs from the highly-productive mangrove ecosystems. My delicious dinner (mariposas coco—butterfly shrimp with coconut breading) was a result of the work of the wetland. My purchase benefited the local restaurant workers and shrimpers…and I hope, encouraged everyone to protect the swamp. I look forward to visiting again in the future. I encourage you to do the same. Thanks for joining me!DSC_0197

Author: Paul Weihe

Associate Professor of Biology at Central College, traditional author (Textbook of Limnology, Cole & Weihe, 5th ed.; Waveland Press), and now...blogger!

3 thoughts on “Strolling through the Mangroves”

  1. Thanks for sharing your mangrove tour! I hope that someday, most people will at least recognize mangroves as being incredibly valuable hurricane-impact softeners, apart from all the other good things they do.

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    1. Yes, indeed. And I’m currently reading a book on New World migratory birds…turns out those mangroves are really important wintering habitat for many of our beloved songbirds, too!

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