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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Protecting Mangroves

Along the edges of backwaters, closer to the sea is nature's inventive exuberance called mangroves. Central to it are many species of halophytes, which are plants adapted to thrive in salt water. And how cleverly they thrive! Roots grow up out of the saline, oxygen starved mud to breathe. Seeds grow into seedlings while still attached to the tree and when mature, spear themselves into the soft mud. To protect the formation of a new colony, a thorny vanguard --Acanthus Illicifolius-- arrives first. Roots of trees are in fact a network of tall stilts in the ebb and flow of tides. In 1969, biologists of the University of Florida discovered the detrital cycle: within hours of the leaves falling from the trees they are colonised by marine fungi and bacteria that convert difficult to digest carbon compounds into nitrogen rich detritus material. And feeding on the detritus and evolving outward is a parade of species in a food chain: worms, snails, shrimp, mollusks, mussels, barnacles, clams, oysters, crabs,fish, birds and marine animals, culminating in --can you ever keep him out?- man.

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