Experimental Tropical Marine Ecology

Excitement in the mangroves
by -- October 6th, 2009

“This is the best jungle gym ever!!”

This morning we set out to explore a new environment: a curving, twisting maze of mangrove trees. The drivers wedged the boats onto a thin patch of shallow murk along the point of an island 20 minutes from the institute. Then our group of intrepid explorers shakily traversed the thin footholds to “dry” land. For a few of us the looping roots brought back fond memories of childhood jungle gyms…just this time with our professors in the lead! According to Dr. Diaz there are three types of mangroves (red, black, and white); he also explained how the entire island owes its existence to the long-term collection of sediment by the sprawling roots. The muddy brown crabs that clambered like insects up tree trunks certainly weren’t too concerned about the precarious balance of their watery home. Even the termites have grown to rely on the mangroves, leaving conical piles of hard, brown dirt sturdily cemented between high-up boughs.

A few of us left the squelching muck, soggy leaves, and coconut halves and began clumsily climbing across an extensive patch of roots. All of a sudden Jenni stepped on a termite-infested branch, tearing it from the tree trunk and landing in the water with a splash. Flustered, she turned toward higher ground only to find herself face-to-face with a snake! In a frantic flurry of motion, Jenni backpedaled over the dead boughs to safety, while the four-foot beauty slid lazily up the trunk of a mangrove. We watched the snake maneuver gracefully into the upper branches; it was truly an awe-inspiring moment. At the time, we thought the markings resembled that of a python, but now the consensus is that it was actually a bird snake. Cool!!

We visited the turtle grass near the mangroves for a quick snorkel- the substrate was sprinkled with colonies of pulsing jellyfish and strange parsley-like anemones. Then across the bay, and back to the lab. And we were lucky enough to see two dolphins on the way!

…the dark silhouette of the island rises from the water like the ridged back of an alligator. Above, the clouds are stretched long and silver across they sky. I step from the boat- and the water greets me, envelopes me- a bath of shimmering mercury, a heavy gray embrace…

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