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Nature and Science 2010-03-26 Forest China Part 5 - A Forest on the Sea Part 1

03-26-2010 10:33 BJT

The world’s lowest forest lies at the point where sea and land meet.

The aigrets wake early in the morning. The mangrove forest is home to several species of aigret: the biggest are the egrets; the smallest are the pond herons; the most numerous are the yellow-headed cattle egrets. .

The baby aigrets were born in May and are still very weak. The parents have until the typhoon season in a month’s time to rear them. With more mouths to feed, the aigret couple set out early in the morning to search for food.

Hainan Island, with its plentiful sunshine and rainfall, is an ideal location for mangroves to flourish. Twenty seven species of mangrove are found in China, of which the sonneratia is the tallest.

The total area of mangroves along China’s coastline is over 15,000 hectares. Most are found in Hainan, Guangdong and Guangxi. The number of species declines the further south the mangroves are found. In Zhejiang Province, there is only one – the Aricennia marina.

It’s the season for the magroves to bloom. Some of the flowers don’t have petals, although the spreading calyces can look like petals. In this coastal location, the seeds must ripen before the onset of the typhoon season.

The soil beneath the mangrove forest is swamped in seawater. Mixed with the rotten leaves and roots, it creates poisonous hydrogen sulfide. Even so, this is a paradise for many small animals.

The fiddler crab with its huge pincers is the king of the mire. A male crab’s body is only two or three centimeters long. But it's pincers are the same size again. Because of the shape of its pincers, westerners call it the “fiddler crab”. It uses its pincers to take food from the organic droppings in the soil, and picks out what it wants using a special filtering device.

Like the fiddler crab, the mangroves on the mudflat have also developed special survival skills.

Its roots, which the sonneratia uses to breathe, cover an area ten times greater than that of its crown.

Because of the lack of air in the soil, the root system grows upwards into the air to breathe. Such is the evolutionary wisdom of the mangroves. Different mangroves have differently-shaped root systems. Some are firm and strong, resembling human knees. Above the ground they have lines of blowholes, resembling nostrils and mouths.

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