National Parks: Puerto Rico’s Cabeza de San Juan

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Maimouna Kante

On the Northeastern tip of Puerto Rico lies a lighthouse built by the Spanish upon their arrival. The lighthouse over looks the Atlantic Ocean, a bioluminescent bay outlined with thousands of mangrove trees. From black mangroves to white mangroves, each mangrove tree has its unique means of adapting on different sectors along the lagoon. This is in Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve in Fajardo.  

According the Para La Naturaleza, it is one of the most visited parks on the island. The mangrove forest, perhaps one of the most fascinating ecosystems that can be found in the park, is a place of both growth and decomposition. The strong sewer-like smell of the area is almost comforting knowing that the bacteria are still doing their job even after the hurricanes have passed.

A trail runs through the mangroves. First on the tour are the black mangroves affected by salt but still the furthest away from saltwater. It is known to grow its root out of the ground in order to adapt to the high salinity of the soil, in turn allowing it to breath. Black holes around the roots of the black mangrove are created by the fiddler crab in order to help the soil get oxygen. The leaves of the black mangrove are slightly coated in salt because, believe it or not, like us, they sweat.

The next set of mangroves are the white mangroves, slightly closer to the Atlantic but still not in the salt water. It has mastered living in an ambiance that is partially salty and partially fresh water. Unlike the black mangrove, it has no aerial roots. Early in the summer, the white mangrove produces greenish-white flowers.

Lastly, there is the red mangrove that sits hand in hand with the ocean, not affected by the high levels of salinity. The red mangrove grows along the shoreline. The redness of the leaves tends to stain the water in its surroundings. The seeds enable seedlings to germinate while they are still attached to their parents, and the roots tend to pop out as a form of adaptation.

For the longest time and still to this day, according to the Para La Naturaleza, the people that live near the mangroves have a very negative perspective of the forest. From the smell of decomposition plants, to the constant sitting water. It has been used as a dump yard, not acknowledging the fact that it harbors biodiversity.

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