Highlighting The Importance of Belize’s Littoral Forests

by McNab Editorial Team

Littoral forests are forests along the coast and cayes with salt-tolerant vegetation. They occur mostly in patches and narrow strips.  Not all cayes have these types of forests though though, since many are really drowned mangrove islands or are too small to support a forest.  Littoral forests are one of the smallest area habitats in the country, covering merely 0.114% of its land surface. 

Frigates and Booby birds mingle atop by the Bird Tower on Half Moon Caye. Image by Jordana Wright

Littoral forests are composed of tough, woody plants that do not have the height or diversity of inland forests.  They are dependent upon soil type and elevation above the sea. In fact, a reduction of as little as a foot or two may result in a total shift from littoral forest to mangrove habitat.

Often, cayes and coasts with sufficient elevation to feature these forests will be crossed by dips or low spots occupied by mangroves. The growth of vegetation in these coastal forests also depends largely on wind and water movement bringing seeds to the habitat.  

Where are they Found? 

Monkey River. Photo by Duarte Dellarole

Coastal Littoral forests are found on high ground along the coast.  In Belize, they are seen in small pockets between Shipstern Lagoon and the Pott’s Creek. You can also find them in areas on the Placencia peninsula, near Monkey River, in patches near Port Honduras, south of the Moho River, and south of Barranco.  The largest areas of littoral forest are found on the higher elevations of islands like Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye. 

The Importance of Littoral Forests 

These forests protect the soil during overwash events, such as hurricane surges.  Because of the dense carpet of vegetation accompanied by fringing mangroves, water is slowed in its progress across islands.

Of course, we can’t ignore the vital factor of supporting flora and fauna. These ecosystems are home to insects, lizards, frogs, and especially, birds. The food chain is sustained by seagrapes, gumbo limbo, and some delicate shrubs, which include seaside daisy, lavender, and bean.  

Photo Credit: Laru Beya Resort

Belize’s littoral forests are one more example of the natural diversity that provides nourishment and protection for all the wonders found across the country.

Written by Nelita Castillo

Featured Photo by Jordana Wright 

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