Climbing through the branches of a dense mangrove forest, walking barefoot through swampy, anoxic mud, and balancing carefully on the web-like aerial roots of mangrove trees, while gathering field data is exactly why I joined the Peace Corps!
The past two weeks my office began our 2015 series of mangrove assessments. Mangroves are trees able to live in fresh or salt water, typically found lining coastlines in tropical regions. They are extremely important because these trees are the defensive line for human communities when typhoons sweep through. They also provide a nursery habitat for fish, cycle nutrients, stabilize sediment, and serve as home and food for marine and terrestrial animals alike.
Unfortunately, humans are a mangrove’s number one threat. In the past, Filipinos removed entire forests to make way for shrimp ponds, while Americans chopped down their own mangroves to obtain unobstructed ocean views from their vacation home windows. Today, mangroves enjoy a fiercely protected status in both countries, however illegal cuttings for firewood, construction, or Christmas trees are still common here.
Why does a casual stroll through a dense mangrove forest require the dexterity of a yoga practictioner? Mangroves inhabit coastal sediments frequently lacking in oxygen. This oxygen is essential for cellular respiration, a process all living things use to break down food and convert it into energy. Therefore, the mangrove has developed a system of aerial roots allowing it to gather oxygen aboveground instead.
And so, I have spent my past week of work sizing up mangroves for their height and canopy cover with the help of my Filipino Mangrove Assessment Team. I trained the team in assessment methodologies, while they taught me how to identify tree species, and we all gathered data to inform proper future management of mangrove resources – this is why I am a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Check out this link to a new video featuring Clenessa Gabinete, a member of my Mangrove Team.
She is currently applying to Duke University’s Marine Conservation Summer Institute and hopes to one day obtain a Master’s degree. Wish her luck!! This would be her first opportunity to travel outside the Philippines too.