The island of Palawan, part of the Philippines, surrounded by the Sulu and South China Seas and 1,780 or so islets, is long and narrow. It is a mountainous island averaging 3,500 feet (1,066 meters) in altitude with Mount Matalingahan, the highest peak, rising to 6,800 feet (2,072 meters). Palawan still contains more than 50 percent of its original forest cover, much of it old growth forest on its mountains. The forest is thick with huge Ficus species, dipterocarps, palms, the tall conifer Almaciga (Agathis philippinensis), philodendrons and the clinging shingle plant (Rhaphiodora sp.)
I went for a week, curious to learn about mangroves. It is a long way to go to look at things growing out of mud. I thought it worth it.
I stayed at the Mangrove Resort, a place of eccentricity next to the Langogan River.
My host, a quebecois conversationalist of the highest order was enthused that I was interested in mangroves. He lead me down a path to the river and bid me look at a large tree. A very large mangrove (Rhizophora mangle),recently dated to be 350 years old, twisted and turned over the river.
The Philippines are home to 39 species of mangrove. There are about 110 species worldwide. The most widespread belong to the genus Rhizophora.Mangroves are extraordinary biomes. They grow in salty water, managing to filter the salt and exude it through their leaves. Some grow breathing tubes (pneumatophores), that act like snorkels, as well as aerial roots and stilt roots. Aerial roots obtain oxygen from the air and stilt roots helps stabilize the tree in the soft mud. They also have an unusual way of propagating, forming germinated seed pods while on the tree, that fall spear-like into the mud and then grow up 2 feet (.6 meters) in a year.
Mangroves are breeding grounds for much of the world’s fish, shrimp, and shellfish. They are nesting sites for millions of birds. They stabilize the shoreline and protect against extreme coastal weather. They are of great importance to the environmental stability of the world but are amongst the most threatened habitats in the world. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature more than one in six mangrove species is in danger of extinction. Over half of the world’s mangrove forests have been lost during the last 50 years largely due to shrimp farming and intrusive development. Governments and conservation organizations are working hard to save what is left but it may well be a case of too little too late.
It is a rare pleasure to paddle a bangka – an outrigger canoe – up the Langogan river, through rolling forested hills dotted with coconut groves and small plantations of bananas. On the edge of the water grow mangrove palms (Nypa fruticans), a palm common to coastlines and riverine habitats of the Pacific and Indian oceans. Only the leaves and the flower stalk are above the surface, the trunk grows beneath the surface of the mud. 56 to 33.9 million years ago (Eocene period) the genus had worldwide distribution, now it is confined to a single tropical species.
Borneo is only 2.4 miles (4 kilometers) from Palawan but is separated by a deep channel, the Balabac Strait. I think I will go there soon.