A day in the mangroves

If you’re in love with nature, a day in the mangroves is definitely worth the trouble, although sometimes you’ll wish you’d just stayed home that day.

The wind made me squint, the boat’s roar changed as the skipper shifted to a higher gear. We danced up and down on our seats while the sea water gushed along each side of the bow. I turned my head back to protect my face from the wind. 5:07, the sun was about to come up over Honey Island. The bay water was flat as a lake and pink as a cherry blossom, it connected to the pink sky seamlessly, only interrupted by the black silhouette of the island. As usual, we were welcomed to the bay by a small group of dolphins, surfacing through the pink water as if in a painting. The moment < although no longer than 10 seconds > seemed to last forever. I turned my head to the front of the boat, and snapped back to reality where work needed to be done. We’d arrived at our study area; the mangroves of Paranaguá Bay. Everyone suited up in neoprene boots and long trousers, mosquito repellents were applied and buckets were supplied with everything we might need. The skipper navigated as close to the mangrove as possible. We jumped out and got moving, standing still in the sinking mudflat would surely result in someone getting stuck.

Arriving at the mangroves © Siel Wellens, 2014

The trampling produced a number of slurping and farting sounds accompanied by a sulfur smell. The buckets turned out to be a helpful tool to pull ourselves out of a sinking situation. The sound of a thousand snapping fingers got louder as we approached the mangrove, the sounds were made by small snapping shrimps. We were relieved to reach the mangrove edge so we could use the branches for extra support.

Mangrove Edge © Siel Wellens, 2014

Tufts of light green hair decorated the trees, these are the old roots of the Bromeliads; parasitic plants growing on the branches. Some of them were accompanied by beautiful pink flowers.

Tufts of Bromeliad roots in the trees © Siel Wellens, 2014

Bromeliad flower © Siel Wellens, 2014

We moved through the mangrove as if we were dancing; swinging one leg over a root and following with the other trying not to splash mud to the person behind us or bending over, legs stretched, head down to swing our body under a branch. While I held on to a tree, I could feel something crawling over my hand, it was a little crab climbing up the tree, it tickled, but I tried to keep still to not interrupt the unsuspecting creature.

If you look closely, you can see the whole mangrove is full of life:

crabs trying to hide …

Hiding behind trees: Aratus pisonii © Siel Wellens, 2014

Hiding in their burrow: Ucides cordatus © Siel Wellens, 2014

Hiding in a tree: Goniopsis cruentata © Siel Wellens, 2014

or fight …

IMG_4601 copy

Uca © Siel Wellens, 2014

Ucides cordatus © Siel Wellens, 2014

Snails doing what snails do best …

Mangrove snails © Siel Wellens, 2014

birds chirping  …

Hummingbird © Siel Wellens, 2014

Barnacles and oysters waiting for high tide …

Barnacles and oysters © Siel Wellens, 2014

and friends screaming as they fall through rotten branches, get stuck in the mud, cut themselves on oysters, walk through spider webs or get eaten alive by filthy bloodsucking insects trying to find that one spot of bare, un-deeted skin.

One day I managed to get around 60 bites on just my 2 hands © Siel Wellens, 2014

A mangrove is a complex ecosystem that’s not very well known yet. Mangroves close to each other can be completely different, so we didn’t only have a look at all the interesting creatures roaming around. We observed the tree species, because a different tree composition will result in very different animals living in, on and under the trees. As some animals like to live underground we also had a look at the soil and at the amazing structures they can build.

Entrance to underground crab burrow © Siel Wellens, 2014

After about 5 hours of exploration, the tide came in and flooded the mangroves completely. We made it back to the boat for the relaxing trip home. Our soggy shoes and trousers were heavy and filled up the boat with a sulfur aroma.

Back in the boat at the end of the day © Siel Wellens, 2014

As the boat sped up we left behind the swarm of insects still thirsty for our blood. We passed by the local Indian tribe, hoping to catch a glimpse of them. The dolphins joined us once more, the engine roared, the boat rocked gently. Time for a nap.

Ilha da Cotinga (Indian tribe) © Siel Wellens, 2014

Dolphins in Paranaguá Bay © Siel Wellens, 2014

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