I grew up in Sydney, but we lived near a creek that ran into the Parramatta River. When I was a kid, there was still space to run around and it was safe to do that. So I spent a bit of time in the magical mangroves, getting my feet swallowed by stinking mud, climbing in the trees, racing around the space.
And my Dad's family are fishermen - not as for work, but for pleasure. And as I grew older and was allowed to go fishing, I learned that the mangroves were breeding and feeding grounds for fish.
Then in 1988, the bicentenary year for Australia, in my mangrove playground a giant park was created to preserve the mangroves and educate people about them (that wasn't the main aim, but for me it was the most important feature). I was at Uni, so I volunteered at the park as a sort of work experience. I learned so much about mangroves. I helped take kids on trips into the mangroves where we did bark rubbing, scooped the water with nets to find small fish. I helped in the education unit where we had fish tanks to show kids what grew in estuaries and mangroves - fish, shrimp, seahorses, hermit crabs, etc. - we had a touch table of sand and shells, sea urchins, mangrove seeds, leaves. It was a dream job. If you're in Sydney, pop into Bicentennial Park at Homebush Bay (oh, it's right near the RWA conference location!)
Then in 1988-89, I went to the Daintree and did some scientific work in the tropical magroves. Some of that work I included in The Virginity Mission. I loved it, but unlike Mac, I didn't get a job up there!
I'll share a bit of the strangeness of mangroves -
- the seeds are round, fat disks that float and travel to new places on tidal movements, then they germinate and turn into a small seedling (like the picture), which try to take root and colonise another area
- they grow in really salty conditions and the plants get rid of the salt by excreting it out the back of their leaves. Have a look next time, you might see white crystals, or if you're game, have a lick and taste the salt!
- plant roots need air to breathe, but mangroves spend a lot of time under water (as the tide comes in and goes out). Underneath mangrove plants, you'll often see little sticks poking up from the ground, these are called pneumatophores, and breathe for the plant, helping get oxygen to the roots
- there are different species of mangrove trees, but all can tolerate salty and water logged conditions in their own way
- tropical mangroves have amazing roots structures which can be like trees themselves