Sunday, 21 October 2012

Mangrove Madness (Part 1)

I'M BACK! *confetti*
OK, so now that my school is over, I've been getting dirty again. This time, I went to the mangroves with Rick!

That's Rick, after his talk at NUS High School

Rick is a mangrove ecologist. He has graduated from NUS and has conducted various mangrove surveys locally, regionally and internationally. Rick is also the founder of the Mangrove Action Squad, whom I have joined for one of their Pair Ris Mangrove tours! Do visit the Mangrove Action Squad and see what you can do to make a difference.

Day 1
So, on the first day, it was just me and Rick. I met him at 11.30am at Kranji MRT and he explained what his research was about. Rick is mapping every single mangrove tree in Mandai Mangroves. Not an easy feat for only one person. Furthermore, I can tell you first-hand that walking into the mangrove is no joke. Even at low-tide, the mud can be at knee-height. Wearing track pants and booties and carrying the total station equipment, we trudged into the mangroves. Rick brought me to a sandbar, where we deposited our bags. I took a few photos...

This is the view from the sandbar. The city in the background of the first picture is Johor Bahru.
Anyway, we set to work. Rick tagged every tree and marked them with chalk to indicate that I had to measure them. I went to each tree that was tagged and measured their diameter using a special measuring tape called DBH tape. DBH tape removes the need to divide the circumference by pi to derive the diameter of the tree. After measuring the diameter, I wrote it down in the data booklet, that was made of this awesome time of paper that can't get wet.

Picture above: My reaction
While measuring, I learnt a lot about the trees that were in the mangrove. I should do a post about a dummy's guide to the mangroves... Anyway, I noticed that many of the trees had holes that were simply FILLED with ants. Luckily, they did not bite. However, after a while, I noticed a strong smell of vinegar, which I thought was weird. Until I noticed that I only smelt the vinegar when I was near some ants. I remembered my trip to Christmas Island, where I encountered the Yellow Crazy Ants (One of the world's worst invasive species). The YCA can spray formic acid into the eyes of the native red crabs, blinding them. I realised that the vinegary smell came from the ants similarly spraying formic acid at me. COOL!
Note: The ants weren't YCA. I think it's interesting that they can do this. I need to read up more on this trait...

Rick told me that the previous two days had rained on him. "Thank God the weather's good today," he said. At the exact same moment as he said that, we heard the ominous rumbling of thunder in the distance. With moments to spare, Rick set up the total station, while I held the prism next to each tree. Unfortunately, after mapping a few trees, the rain came and we had to pack up. Like men of the woods, we didn't use ponchos and walked through the rain to the nearby petrol station via the Green Corridor. This was my first time on the  Green Corridor, so I enjoyed it a lot.

And that's just Day 1...

Day 2
I met up with Rick in his lab this time, which is super cool! They've got their own Safety Justin Bieber and all... (It's a cardboard cutout of JB telling you to wear a mask in the lab) Plenty of science jokes too.
This is a feather that Rick found on a previous trip. Could it be a raptor?
I also visited RMBR before I went to see Rick. But I'll write about that some other time. I met Dipti, who is from India. Needless to say, Rick and I get along great with her. We discussed Indian food all the way to the mangroves. The tide was unusually high, but we braved them and went towards the site. We met a juvenile Dog-faced Water Snake on the way. Couldn't take a photo, though because I was knee deep in water. At any rate, we reached the site and sat around, waiting for the tide to recede. Finally, we set up the total station and got to work. Luckily, this time, we saw no rain at all. So we were able to make a lot of progress, tagging, measuring and mapping all the trees in the area.

Just as we were halfway through, Rick saw a yellow thing in the water. "Is that a kayak?" I asked. He said, "Yeah, I think so." We tried to retrieve the drifting kayak. But upon closer investigation, it simply turned out to be a floating mattress. What a disappointment. Nevertheless, it serves as a reminder that we should not dump rubbish into the sea.

I regret to say that at that juncture, Dipti and I got tired. Rick was full of energy as he ventured into areas unknown, clambering over Rhizophora roots to get a good measurement and trudging through the polychaete infested mud, armed with nothing more than a prism on a stick.

Anyway, we made some great progress. I had a great time walking back along the Green Corridor.

Day 3
I took a break this day, because I was so tired. After two days of work, I was ready to hit the hay. Rick does this for 7 days in a row. I really want to salute him. Anyway, I took the holiday to get my last few school assignments done. So, by the end of the day, I was a free man, with nothing to look forward to but my National Service.

I don't want this post to be too long. I'll post about Days 4 and 5 tomorrow. I'll try to be less intermittent with the posting. (The last post was July 10. Yeah, I was busy.) Anyway, I'm still a regularly posting administrator for the Evolution Facebook group. Do like the page and check out our content!

Also, Rick is a really hard-working person. He's currently taking a well-earned week of holiday. I regret that I can't help him until November, due to prior commitments. Nevertheless, he is in need of volunteers. Check out his blog and do find out what you can do to help out!

See you tomorrow!

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