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For nature guides: introducing mangroves
updated Sep 09

Don't drone on about trees:
You can create an enjoyable walk where the visitors leave with a better understanding of mangroves without even giving a single name of a tree or mentioning a single medicinal use. It can get boring if you only talk about individual tree species. People more readily absorb information about the mangroves as a system, and the role the entire system plays in our daily lives. Sprinkle interesting facts about individual species. Don't overdose.

What are mangroves?

Mangroves are trees that can grow in the sea!

  • How high do you think the tide gets in this mangrove forest?
    Point out the change in colour on tree roots and trunks.

Fascinating mangroves!
Let's look at some of the challenges facing mangrove trees.

  • Submerged in salt water twice a day
  • Stand in 'soil' which is soft, unstable and poor in oxygen.

It is tough to live in the sea and stand in mud all your life.

  • If you had to stay submerged in shallow water twice a day, how would you breathe? Yes, you might snorkel and breathe through a tube. You might breathe through an air tank. Mangrove trees have breathing roots! And can store air in their roots too. How many different kinds of roots can you see?

  • There is very little freshwater to drink! How would you cope?
    Yes, mangrove trees can get rid of the salt from seawater. Some deposit the salt on their leaves. See the salt crystals on this leaf?

    But this is hard work to remove the salt, so mangroves prevent water loss (thick, waxy or hairy leaves, feel it).

  • The soil is very soft, how would you stay upright?
    Yes, some mangroves have stilt and prop roots. Others have shallow horizontal roots that form a kind of raft.

Mangrove babies
If it's tough to be an adult tree in the sea, it's even harder for a seedling or baby tree. In many mangrove, the fruits stay on the mama tree and become long seedlings while still hanging onto her! By the time they drop off, they are in a much better position to survive in the sea.

Don't step on mangroves!

  • The pointy things on the ground are breathing roots of the mangrove trees. Don't step on them or break them.

  • Many small animals hide among mangrove roots. You will squash them if you step on them.
Mangroves are important to the ecosystem

Mangroves provide food:

  • Some animals can eat mangrove leaves, Can you see any animals that might eat mangrove leaves? Yes, crabs do! (See tree climbing crabs).
  • Dead and decaying mangrove leaves also wash out into the seagrass meadows and coral reefs where they feed other creatures there.

Mangroves provide shelter:

  • The mangrove roots provide hiding places for animals in the water.
  • The mangrove branches provide hiding places for birds and land animals.
  • Some animals that can live in between water and land are also found here (mudskippers, tree climbing crabs).
  • The mat of roots provide firm ground for small burrowing animals (fiddler crabs).
  • Let's see if we can find some of these animals?

The food chain: These small animals are in turn eaten by bigger animals. Some of them swim in from deeper waters at high tide and we don't see them now at low tide.

Mangroves and you
"Can Eat or Not?" While we can't eat mangroves, some of our favourite food depends on mangroves.

  • How many of you like durians? Durian lovers must also love the Sonneratia trees. One way to tell the story with questions:
    • What do you think pollinates the durian flowers? If no one guesses right away, give them some clues: the durian flower looks like a pom-pom, it's white and it blooms at night. Eventually someone will guess bats.
    • Inform them that these bats only drink nectar and eat pollen. They don't eat fruits, they don't eat insects.
    • How often does the durian tree flower? Eventually they will realise once or twice a year. Emphasise that these bats can't rely only on durian for their only food. Infact, other trees like Sonneratia that bloom more regularly allow a larger population of these bats to survive. With more bats, more durians are likely to be pollinated.

  • What are YOUR favourite seafood? Let's see if we can find them here in this mangrove? Young crabs, shrimps live in the mangroves before going into deeper waters as they grow up where they are caught by fishermen. So to get good fishing, it's important to have good mangroves nearby.

  • The shrimp industry can be bad for mangroves. This is quite a depressing story, and usually only the more nature-oriented visitor can sit through the long story.

Mangrove myths to dispel

  • Mangroves are not smelly because they are full of dead decaying things. In fact, this 'Fart of Life' is a sign of a healthy mangrove. More details of this story in the general write up on mangroves.
  • Mangroves are NOT wasted land. They provide shelter and food to a wide variety of animals, many of which are among our favourite seafood. These animals are part of the food chain in ecosystems nearby. They stabilise sediments and keep the water clear for seagrasses and coral reefs to develop nearby. Without mangroves, other coastal ecosystems nearby can be severely affected.
  • If we had to build a system to do all the things that mangroves do for us for free, it would cost a lot of money. Just imagine paying people to pollinate the durians if we lost the bats that do the job for us for free.

Handling tips

Don't step on the mangroves
If you HAVE to walk through a stretch of mangroves, choose a route with few breathing roots and where the ground is not soft. Ask the visitors to follow in your footsteps. Tell them to keep to a single file to minimise the damage to the ground.

Don't pick off leaves, flowers or propagules!
To give visitors a closer look, use whatever are already broken off or washed up on the shore.

Don't throw things at plants or animals in the mangroves!

Pointing things out to visitors from a boardwalk can be tricky. If you just say "There!" you will inevitably get the response "Where?!". Describe what they should look for (size, colour, shape), use a prominent and distinctive landmark (don't say "next to the brown leaf" when there are 200 brown leaves on the ground). Using the landmark say "2 o'clock from" etc.

Visiting the mangroves at low tide is great! You can see the roots, mudlobster mounds, and lots of animals are active on the ground.

Visiting the mangroves at high tide is great! The animals are crowded on tree trunks (tree climbing crabs) and roots (mudskippers). Snails gather at the high water mark. And fishes and other aquatic animals are busy in the water.
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