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Learning about Mangroves

The coast of Malaysia stretches for about 4,800 kilometres. The oceans that surround Malaysia are specifically, the Straits of Malacca, South China Sea and the Sulu Sea, which are all ecosystems that are rich in natural resources.

A rainforest by the sea, mangroves are an ecosystem that comprise of salt-tolerant trees and other plant species. They grow mainly in the intertidal areas and estuary mouths between land and sea. They usually thrive in intertidal zones of sheltered tropical shores, islands and estuaries. The mangroves have specially adapted aerial and salt-filtering roots, as well as salt-excreting leaves that enable them to occupy the saline wetlands, where other plant life usually cannot survive. Besides that, the mangroves are also rich with other aquatic life forms such as crabs and prawns.

The greatest mangrove species diversity exists in Southeast Asia. Scientists have theorized that the earliest mangrove species originated in the Indo-Malayan region, where there are far more mangrove species than anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, data from the Malaysian Forestry Department states that in the last two decades we have lost almost 20% of the original mangrove forest area that once existed. As of 2003, there is only 564,971 hectares of mangrove forest area in Malaysia :
  • 60% in Sabah
  • 23% in Sarawak
  • 17% in Peninsula Malaysia

Importance of Mangroves

Everything that nature provides to mankind serves a specific and unique purpose. Besides creating a beautiful landscape, the mangroves provide in many ways to the Earth. One important use of mangroves is that it acts as natural coastal protection. In fact, during the 2004 Tsunami, many coastal communities survived mainly due to coastal protection that was provided by mangroves.

Some reasons why the mangroves serve as important coastal protection :

  • Its unique location between land and sea makes it a coastal protector from physical damage such as big waves and wind
  • The unique root system of mangroves traps soil, and facilitates the creation  of deltas
  • It also serves as the habitat and shelter to many species of flora and fauna that are unique to a mangrove ecosystem ( up to 75% of all tropical fish)
  • The mangrove is also a natural protector of associated marine ecosystems
  • Many migrating birds stop over at Kuala Gula before making their way back to southern hemisphere

Its other functions include :

        Soil stabilization
        Erosion protection
        Nutrient retention
        Water quality improvement
        Flood mitigation
        Sequestration of carbon dioxide

Flora in the Mangroves

The mangroves has more than 60 species of flora, each unique and suited to the rich and diverse ecosystem of a mangrove forest. They more or less fall under one of the following genus :
  • Avicennia (Api-api)
  • Rhizophora (Bakau)
  • Sonneratia(Perepat)
  • Bruguiera (Berus/Tumu)
Other families of species that can be found in the mangroves include Malvaceae (Baru baru), Palmae (Nipah), Acanthaceae (jejuru), Pteridaceae (Paku Laut) and others.

Fauna in the Mangroves

The mangroves is home to a large number of animals, that range from big animals to some as small as zooplankton. There is a significant number of birds, reptiles and mammals that call the mangroves home. Among them are :
  • Buaya Muara
  • Ketam Rebab
  • Ketam Lumpur
  • Ikan Belacak
  • Udang Kara
  • Ular Bakau
  • Lotong Kelabu
  • Memerang Licin
  • Berok
  • Kelawar
  • Pekaka bakau
  • Burung Pucung
  • Burung Bangau

At high tide, many species of fish, crustaceans and prawns swim into the mangroves in search of food. Some species are usually found at the roots and around the mangrove tree.

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