Mangrove Changes Along the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea: Remotely Sensed Perspectives on Local-Scale Drivers and Impacts

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The core of this dissertation consists of three local-scale case studies of mangrove forest change in study areas in Belize, Cuba, and Mexico. For each case study, I combined remote sensing, field observations, local knowledge, and scientific literature to document the patterns and processes of mangrove change within the study area. In this dissertation, I analyze these three narratives of mangrove change in concert with one another toward the following three objectives: 1) inform local conservation science and practice within each study area; 2) demonstrate the continued importance of local-scale studies of mangrove change dynamics, and 3) generalize the implications of these three case studies toward a broader understanding of mangrove change trajectories along the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Toward the first objective, I found that the mangrove forests of Zapata, Cuba, experienced an acute deforestation event with the landfall of Hurricane Michelle in 2001, but areas deforested by the hurricane largely recovered within a decade. In Campeche, Mexico, mangrove decline was driven primarily by urban and agricultural pollution and freshwater flow diversion. In Placencia, Belize, expansion of tourism and aquaculture infrastructure led to the direct deforestation of mangrove forested area and may have helped set the stage for crocodile hybridization. Toward the second objective, I demonstrate that not only do many local-scale products offer more quantitatively accurate depictions of mangrove patterns, but they also provide more nuanced qualitative descriptions of local mangrove change processes. Toward the third objective, my findings suggest that mangrove forests along the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea are more resilient to “natural” drivers of deforestation than they are to anthropogenic drivers like land clearance, freshwater flow alteration, and pollution. Furthermore, though they may not always be as immediately apparent as direct deforestation via land clearance or logging, indirect drivers of mangrove deforestation like freshwater flow alteration and pollution can significantly reduce the extent of a given mangrove forest. With direct and indirect anthropogenic drivers of mangrove change increasing in prevalence along regional coastlines, local-scale examinations of mangrove change trajectories will continue to make important contributions to conservation science and practice.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Belize, Cuba, Landscape change, Mangrove, Mexico, Remote sensing