Friday, July 1, 2016

Mangrove Madness

Rich, The Master of the Mangrooves
Besides doing a lot of hard science I do take time to try and expand my horizons. I have been helping out the Mangroovers on their conquest of the lagoons. I went with them to the lagoon right behind the house to lend a hand, but I never realised doing research in the mangroves, Mangrooving as it is affectionately called, actually involved getting into the mangroves. I should have known, obviously, that you cannot gather data by just sitting on the edge of the forest and never going in, but the reality of what climbing on mangrove roots and treading in the murky, muddy water really is totally slapped me in the face. Luckily I was somewhat pre-warned... I had prepared (adequately enough) with long pants, long sleeved shirt and worn down runners, and of course tons of bug spray! We kayaked down to the “bottom” of the lagoon and found a little canal leading deeper into the forest, and went along until we found a good spot to park our kayaks. I managed to climb out of the kayak staying high and dry on the roots, but they were slippery business! Rich (the project leader and self appointed Mangroover Captain) took off to set down a 50 meter long measure tape to mark the first transect of the day. Me and Rachel (the Mangroover Apprentice) went to a point on the transect to set out a “plot”, within which we would take measurements of the trees and collect some core samples of the soil.
Mangrooving is serious business! 
Core samples are taken with a tool that looks like a wide tube which is pushed ca. 30 cm into the ground. There is a kind of “switch” on the tube that creates a suction to the top of the tube making the air pressure above the sample change so that the soil doesn’t just fall out of the tube when lifted. Obviously, as these cores are taken from the soil, it required getting into the mud ourselves... I had a moment when I was sure something would find the bare skin on my ankles and latch on, and only with some serious self assuring in the form of a there’s-no-croc’s-here-the-worst-thing-in-the-water-might-be-a-leech-nothing-here-will-kill-you-mantra did I manage to keep my cool and not let my mangrooving inexperience show (Rich and Rachel, you didn’t notice a thing!). That day we did two transects, one 100m and one 50m long, and kayaked all the way to the end of the lagoon. In fact, we spent so long in the kayaks under the sun that I acquired a fairly peculiar tanline on my ankles; long pants and short socks left just enough bare skin for the sun to burn 2cm wide ankle bracelets for me. #MangroveFashionista!

Can you spot the pelicans? 

I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go again very soon, because mangrooving was seriously hard core, and as much as I enjoyed it I had a hard time trying to get back to my own stuff once we returned to the house. But the next excursion was a few days later to Miami: a small fishing village about a 10 minute boat ride or 40 minute car drive away from Tela Marine. How was I supposed to say no? I mean, it was Miami after all ;) We took the pick-up truck to get there, and found Santos (the boat driver) waiting for us at the beach, along with George, a man who says he’ll watch the car but in reality just sits on the beach and drinks. I’m willing to bet if someone came to take something from the car he would probably help them... for a fee of course! This time there was no need to use all our energy kayaking, as we had a nice motor boat with a canopy to take us around the lagoon. The lagoon by Miami is separate from the one we went to before, and is also known to have crocodiles... Yaiks! We had a mission, however, and as soon as we got to the boat we got on with it. We were looking for wooden panels left in the water last year, to see what is degrading wooden material in these mangroves. Each site where the panels were left had a GPS “address”, and the panels were attached to fishing line which was then attached to a cable tie above water, to make them easier to spot amongst the roots. At some sites we found some of the fishing lines cut, probably a result of hopeful fishermen looking for a nice big crab caught in the line, only to  be disappointed to find the line attached to a rotting piece of wood... I liked the “spot the cable tie” game at each site, though, definitely a much easier way to spend the day than scrambling over the roots. We also left some new panels in the roots to be collected by the end of the season this year. The root systems in Miami were a lot easier to climb on than in the lagoon behind the house. Or so I thought until we went there again...
Birds not impressed by our arrival... 

A few days later we took on Miami again. Little did I know this time Rich had planned on doing a 150 m long transect... We found a site quickly after taking off from Miami Beach (ehe ehe...) and it looked like a piece of cake with a path leading into the forest. There were a few things on the mission list that day; record dead tree material along the transect within 10 meters each side, record all living trees along the transect and their heights and species, and take some core samples. We also took salinity and pH from the core samples. Did I say there was a path? I probably should have said there was a continuous gap in the roots... Walking along what looked like solid ground I suddenly found myself thigh deep in the mud, hanging onto Rachel for dear life (to her dismay as I was kind of pulling her down with me) and struggling to get up. I fared a little better than Jack, however, who was on his first Mangrooving session. He sunk into the same hole I had survived only moments before, fell forward to a huge banana spider net which, despite being fairly strong, was clearly unable to hold the weight of a tall Brit flailing about trying to get up from the mangrove suction trap. I would be lying if I said I didn’t laugh (sorry Jack!)... In fact, I giggled everytime a “F***k!”, “AAARRHH!” or “Dammit!!” rang through the mangroves.
Staying high and dry. Well, I am at least!
Along the 150 meters, there was one patch of deep water and mud, where if you were lucky you hit the roots and only got wet to your knees, but if you missed a step, you were going waist deep in the thickest muck I’ve ever experienced. Rich tried to help over me by bending a mangrove from the other side so I could hang onto it while crossing over. However, using his body weight to bend a young mangrove with relatively shallow roots resulted in him lying on top of the tree, inching towards a horizontal splat to give himself a nice mangroovian facial. While holding the tree somewhat upright, sinking deeper into the muck myself, I was trying to convince him I was not the reason he was getting closer and closer to a beautifying mud bath! Somehow I managed to hold the tree stable enough for him to crawl backwards onto dry(ish) land, and I was still only knee deep. Found a relatively stable route to the other side as well, and on we went with the transect! We spent a good 2 hours on that transect line, saw a couple of massive grasshoppers and one tarantula that was ready to take a bite out of Rich after he macheted down a fern it was clearly using as a sun lounger. I mean, I would be pissed too if someone woke me up from a much needed nap beside the pool! After the transect was done we were quite happy to hop on the boat and go have our packed lunch at Miami Beach. Sitting there, under the shade, munching away on our club sandwiches, my all day headache finally got the better of me and I just couldn’t wait to get home for a shower and a nap! I’m not quite done with the Mangrooving yet, though, and will definitely be joining the Mangrove Madness again. If they’ll have me ;)

Passing by a local fisherman

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