Waist Deep in Mud

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Courtesy of Wetlands International

Mangrove ecosystems are by definition muddy. Land and sea animals happily live and reproduce in these coastal forests, but such muddy conditions can present a bit of challenge for researchers.

After seven years (mid 2003 to early 2010) carrying out various mangrove-related research activities in the Berau Delta in the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan, I know from experience that the mud thickness at several locations in the delta can be waist-high. This makes it very difficult for people to walk; especially for those with some excess weight, as they will sink further into the mud. In this case, to be able to move forward, they have to creep on the slippery surface of the mud, just like a giant mudskipper (or Gelodok). At the end of the fieldwork, the whole body will be covered with stinky mud. It is a bit like a mud spa with an unpleasant odour.

In October 2012, I had the opportunity to assess biophysical characteristics of mangrove ecosystems at three locations on the north coast of Java: Pemalang, Banten Bay and Banyuwangi. Our team, consisting of colleagues from Wetlands International, Wageningen University and Bogor Agriculture Institute (IPB), were very excited to conduct the field surveys.

While working in Pemalang and Banten Bay from early October until the end of November, we worked pretty fast in the mangroves without any problems. Most of the mangrove ecosystems in these locations have been degraded, and as a result the mud is now shallow and mixed with sand. These conditions made our work feel like fun.

Based on our experience on these two sites, we predicted that our job at the last site located in Pangpang Bay (Banyuwangi) would be easier. However, our predictions turned out to be quite wrong. When we started the measurements on the second plot in the Tegaldlimo village in early December, we were trapped in the mud, which covered us almost to the waist and made it very difficult to reach the station point.

The mangrove ecosystem at this last site was similar to the one I knew from Berau. It is still natural with a deep muddy substrate and a diverse fauna (monkeys, wild birds and mangrove snakes). This made me shout loudly with joy! It was just like getting a great treasure… Yippiii! It felt like an early Christmas gift.

To make matters even better, it seems that our information about the degraded state of the mangroves on the north coast of Java was not entirely correct. In fact, we found a natural mangrove ecosystem in Pangpang Bay. Hopefully this last pristine mangrove ecosystem in Pangpang Bay can be maintained and conserved for the future with the support from Wetlands International!

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