When I arrived at Honko Mangrove Conservation and Education, I began working on the long-term monitoring project of the mangrove almost immediately. Upon arriving, I learned that a little more than half of these plots had been surveyed as of yet. After doing some quick math, I realized with a two-month internship it was technically feasible to finish all the remaining plots before I left to go back the states. Early on, I made it a personal goal to finish the 100th plot before this time. With about two plots finished a day and three to four work days a week, we had to work quickly to reach my goal. Oftentimes, these plots were located several kilometers into the mangrove. Although this almost always meant a long trek through thick vegetation and deep mud, it allowed me a unique perspective of the mangrove as both a gorgeous and functioning ecosystem and a source of subsistence for the people living in close proximity to it.
An average day began by venturing to one of one-hundred plots scattered throughout the mangrove, marked by GPS points laid out at the beginning of the project in February. Arriving at a plot, we would first establish its boundaries by placing wooden stakes in a 10 meter-squared area. With these boundaries established, we would begin marking down the height, width, and species of every tree in the plot. Although this could take over an hour, depending on the density of the plot, it allowed me to appreciate the broad variations in terrain present throughout the mangrove forest; there were the jungle-like stands of apple mangroves, dimly lit, dense and full of thick pneumatophores. There were the narrow stands of red and grey mangroves which would grow so close together, passing through their adventitious roots was akin to navigating ones way through a jungle gym. There were relatively sparse stands, where narrow streams meandered their way through the mud, distributing water from the channel throughout the test of the mangrove. There were the degraded and deforested plots, where the chopped mangroves, ash piles, and pieces of trash made a sad sight to behold. But there were also the regenerating stands, where saplings and small mangroves seemed to grow everywhere, naturally restoring previously lost land. Going out into the mangrove everyday made me appreciate the mangrove forest as more than just a single, homogeneous entity; it was a quilted, patchwork where every turn (or climb) could lead to a vastly different terrain than the last one before it.
While traversing through this motley forest, one would often come upon the many people who live around it. Coming from the surrounding villages, they would be seen gathering the numerous resources available in the mangrove. Whether it be the men fishing the channel with their long nets, the women collecting reeds in the upper marsh, or the children cracking open shellfish by the boardwalk, one would always be greeted with wide smiles and a warm “Salama!” (‘Hello!’ in Malagasy). Sights such as these shed a different light on the mangrove: it was not just a place of ecological diversity and importance, but also a source of livelihood and subsistence for the indigenous folk residing around it.
Working towards that hundredth plot gave me an unrivaled sense of the multi-faceted function and value of the mangrove, one that I could’ve only have only gained by my daily outings into the forest. And although completing the hundredth plot wasn’t that big a deal in the grand scheme of things (the goal is survey all 100 plots every 3 months), it helped me feel that, in my short time there I contributed to the substantial undertaking of keeping this magnificent mangrove healthy and intact for years to come.