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Quaker by conviction, mother by default, Celticst through love, Christ follower because I once was lost but now am found...

Friday, April 30, 2010

A Strange Love Affair.

Many ~ perhaps most ~ Australians have never stood in a mangrove forest...Mangroves are not the sort of place most people would choose for a casual stroll. Bob Holmes [New Scientist]

Milky mangrove.
Shortly after we moved to the island I became known as The Greenie; this was not a complimentary endearment! I drove the excavator crazy. Of two trees growing side by side, their trunks touching, the excavator was only allowed to remove the one infested with white ants. I bailed up the chainsaw guy & sent him packing. He protested he was only cutting down dead trees. I pointed out nests. We kept our ironbarks ~ & the she oaks, the soap trees & ferns. In between we planted more natives & some exotics. I think we are the only family that has not systematically removed our mangroves, legally or otherwise. I'm sure this does not surprise you. Different root systems but each eliminates the salts while absorbing oxygen, nutrients & water.

A mangrove is not, a mangrove is a mangrove is a mangrove. Queensland alone boasts 39 different species of mangrove. If I walk along my waterfront I can count a least 7 different varieties. On the outer edges we get the common great spreading Grey whose branches rest so serenely along the water like a languid lover's arms & behind those the River mangrove & Yellow. Closer to the shoreline you will find the Milky mangrove, the Red & Orange & Black mangroves, each doing its mangrovey thing, each different, each special.

Orange amongst Red Mangroves.

Now anyone who has lived near mangroves will immediately think they are a breeding habitat for mosquitoes ~ which is unfortunately true & probably a major contributing factor to their consistent removal, though I've met lots of people who just think them plain ugly & useless. Nothing could be further from the truth. A well grown Orange is a magnificent tree, especially when its red bell like flowers cluster amongst the dark green leaves! Mangroves are absolutely essential for a healthy coastal ecosystem but did you know the Milky, whose white sap is poisonous & notorious for causing blindness is also used in incense, is pollen rich & highly attractive to bees & the poisonous sap is used in treating chronic ulcerous diseases such as leprosy? My head is full of useless information.

It's been estimated that at least 1/2 of the world's mangrove forests have been destroyed by man. That's insane when you consider they stabilise river banks & channels & act as buffering from storm surges & winds. This was devastatingly highlighted during the Sri Lanka Tsunami of 2005. The village that had removed all its mangroves suffered over 6, 000 deaths. The one that kept them just 2! [quote from here] Seventy~five % of tropical coastlines are bordered by mangroves. They provide breeding nurseries for loads of marine life, shelter & nesting habitat for scores of birds & are soil formers.

The Grey Mangrove, with its wide spread & drab colouring, is absolutely fascinating. It is the pioneer mangrove, growing at the farthest extremes of the mangrove forest, tolerating short periods of both freshwater & hypersalinity & colonising developing mudbanks.

Between the pioneer spirit of the Greys & the landhuggers like the Blacks you find stands of River Mangroves. They look, to me, a lot like more of the same but they are subtlety different & do a quite different job. They form large stands in the centre & landward zones of mangrove forests creating an understory for the Greys & buffering the less robust mangroves behind them.

And did you know that Mangroves can "drown"? More or less. Extended periods of water logging exceeding 14 days & any species of mangrove will die. They all need a certain amount of exposure to fresh air to disperse their salts & oxygenate themselves.

We are blessed, Along our stretch of beach the mangroves have been left unmolested for many years. We have several huge trees bearing the scars of the storms they have survived, wide swathes where it is possible to walk through dappled waterlight with ease. When the winter winds howl overhead & the thermometer plummets I can head into the mangroves knowing that in some sunshiny spot there will be silence & warmth & shelter from the storm.


Sandra said...

I have heard of mangroves but was not really aware of what they are. It is beyond imagination how humanity can consider itself so superior to nature as to destroy it, which in the end will destroy arrogant humankind.

Ganeida said...

Sandra: I love beautiful things, especially the beauty of nature, & I do not understand how people can so wantonly destroy something so lovely. :( Mind you we are busily hacking away at "the lungs of the earth" as well disappearing our rainforests at a phenomenal rate. That's a scary one.

Molytail said...

I've met lots of people who just think them plain ugly & useless.

How can they think that? They're so unique looking! We have nothing that even remotely resembles them here...

I'd have been doing the same - driving builders/etc bonkers because I'd want as little cut down as possible.

seekingmyLord said...

When I lived in Florida, I thought mangroves were interesting but they do cut off a waterfront view for the most part, unless the house is stilted. They don't handle freezes well either.