Sunday, June 30, 2013

Micronesia: Day 8 - Storms and My Mangrove Report

June 30, 2013
11:43 A.M.

I know I didn't do a very sizable blog post yesterday... this was because I was working on a field report for the data we collected in the mangrove swamps. I told you I'd post some of the data and an analysis once I analyzed it, so that's what I'll do. Here's a summarization of my report.

For part 1, we hypothesized how mangroves would change as a function of salinity. Based on my data, I made the assertion that mangroves change because some are more effective at growing in freshwater but can't survive a salinity that other mangroves can thrive beyond. This was partially true, but there was hardly a straight correlation between the two estuaries we sampled (Sapwalap and Soundau) and salinity, indicating that while salinity is a factor, there are many, many other factors at play (which is to be expected. This is a tropical estuary, not a lab).

For part 2, we identified the different mangroves we saw. I already did this in excruciating detail on my day 3 post, so I'll save you from having to read even more of my overly verbose diction.

In part 3, I talked about the methods we used to find the distribution of mangroves at certain salinities. To make sure our data was comprehensive and scientifically applicable, we took the exact time of our stop at a certain location and took the coordinates with a GPS. Once we did that, we measured the salinity of the water. We took salinity measurements only at the entrance of the estuary going in and going to see how the tidal flux affected salinity, but for all other measurements, we actually headed into the mangrove swamps.

After we headed into the swamps, we found a partner to pair up with (the same partner for all sites on one estuary) and each of us would survey the number of mangroves in a 20-30 meter radius. More specifically, we would count the number of each genus we could find. We wrote down these numbers and the genera in our Rite in the Rain notebooks with their associated Rite in the Rain pens, hopped into the boat,went to the next station, and repeated the process.

I didn't go into some of the mangrove swamps, so I did my surveying with Ashley Maloney (a grad student on the trip) from the boat. For the last three stops on the Soundau estuary, I surveyed around three boat lengths (20-30 meters) for different species.

Alright, here's the moment you've all been waiting for: the data. The tables above each graph are the actual raw data we used to make that graph. Unless you have really good eyes, it's hard to read the tables, so just click on them for the original version or zoom in on your computer.

I had a 1774 word scientific discussion and analyzation of this data that you all would probably find boring. We identified explanations for differences in our data and the class average, and we listed things such as miscounting, different approximate radiuses, not counting small trees, etc. Most of this stuff is stuff you can infer from the graphs; I just spelled it out specifically in this report.
Lastly, I gave some reasons why mangroves are important and should be preserved on Pohnpei.

1.)   They are great for climbing. I’m not trying to be sarcastic here… I’m a big fan of obstacle courses. And mangrove swamps, particularly the mud, are obstacles to human penetration. Rhyzophera, with their prop roots, are probably the best for climbing. This could be extended to all recreational activities that humans do with mangroves.

2.)   They are a great source of wood, particularly Xylocarpus. One could obtain a whole bunch of wood by chopping down a whole bunch of trees really quickly, but you will have the biggest returns in the long run if you do so in a sustainable way. This isn’t exactly “preserving” the mangroves, but it is a means of reaping their benefits while keeping them healthy.

3.)    They extremely protective and high in nutrients, so they make great habitat for fish and crabs, especially if they are juveniles or are spawning. As a result, biodiversity in these areas is high.

4.)    Mangroves are not only protective for organisms, but they protect the coast from eroding. As waves crash against the mangrove swamp, their energy is dissipated and very little energy actually hits solid land.

5.)    The mangrove swamps accumulate around 1 mm of sediment per year. This is much lower than the expected rate of the ocean to rise due to global warming, but it mitigates damage. As a result, the coastline will shrink up around Pohnpei at a slower rate. This is closely tied to soil erosion.

6.)    According to a BBC article I read, mangrove swamps are five times more efficient at capturing carbon than tropical rainforests, so having a lot of them could be a way to mitigate the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. This is currently being researched.

7.) The coolest thing is that the Rhysofera stylus can be used to defog a snorkel mask and keep it defogged. I didn't believe it until I tried it myself. It's amazing.

It also rained pretty darn hard at times yesterday, and at night, there were some amazing flashes of lightning in the distance. There was one point during the day when it rained incredibly hard and the wind really picked up, but I didn’t get that filmed, unfortunately. It was right before the video I took during the day. Of course, all this rain is extremely heavy compared to that in Seattle. I can never call Seattle rain heavy ever again.

I'm trying to upload some videos of the storms yesterday but they aren't working. I am assuming that this is because of the slow internet connection. I'll give it another shot, but I doubt they will be able to upload. In the future, I will take shorter videos.

Finished 2:47 P.M. 6/30/13


It's now 1:21 A.M. PDT 7/23/13, and I can upload those weather videos I was talking about. Here they are!

Above is a video of the first event in the afternoon. Notice how rapidly the rain picks up and dies down.

And here is the thunderstorm. You only see one flash of lightning, but I heard they are pretty rare in Pohnpei, so I'm glad we got to see one.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Micronesia: Day 7

Saturday June 29, 2012
3:07 P.M.

So I have this big assignment that I got to write up tonight, but this is good because I can just change a few words and stuff and use it for my blog as well. Or, I could write it in my blog, publish my blog, and then change a few words to do the actual assignment. I'll choose the former.

I just wanted to mention that there was a huge tropical rainstorm at around 2 P.M. It reminded me of the rainstorm Seattle experienced around 4:30 P.M., Thursday, December 14, 2006 (it was a convective squall passing through the same storm that brought high winds to the coast and Puget Sound region, known colloquially as the "Hanukah Eve Storm."

Update: 10:51 P.M.: There is a massive, massive rainstorm... even more intense than the one this afternoon. A few bolts of lightning as well. Absolutely fascinating stuff. Rainfall rates are easily over an inch per hour.

Update: 11:49 P.M.: It is still raining a little, with the very occasional lightning bolt in the far distance. None of the lightning bolts were close... they were over some mountains and at least 15 miles away in most cases. There are dogs fighting, but nowhere near as intense as a dog fight earlier this night. Feral dogs are vicious.

This is all for now... today was a work day, and I've still got a lot of work ahead of me.

Until next time,

Friday, June 28, 2013

Micronesia: Day 5 - Nan Madol Ruins

Started 9:38 P.M. on 6/28/13


Alright. Now it's 10:49 P.M. and the pictures haven't even started uploading, so time to switch to Chrome from Firefox. I'm an open source guy, but man, Google knows how to know things.


Well, well, well. It's now 11:47 P.M., and I'm not yet tired, so I will start blogging and see how far I can make it. It is kind of funny... I will undoubtedly spend more time on this blog than on the final project and paper that I am being graded on. But researching this stuff on my own and passing on my first-hand experiences to you is so much more important. I mean, gosh, what's more fulfilling? A 4.0 or a diary of these once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I can share with the world? The good thing is that they are definitely related. Writing about the stuff we do keeps me on top of things.

We did a variety of activities on Thursday, but our main experience was visiting Nan Madol. Nan Madol was a city that was the capital of the Saudeleur Dynasty until 1628. Soon after, it was abandoned and now lies in ruins. It was a spectacular sight nonetheless. It wasn't as big or grand or impressive as the Colosseum or the Sistine Chapel, but when you consider the resources that the Pohnpeians had and the remote location of the island, you really appreciate its beauty.

Seeing Nan Madol was an experience from start to finish. Before we went to see the ruins, we paid our respects to the paramount chief who resides over the district that Nan Madol resides in. He is one of five paramount chiefs on Pohnpei, so we all felt very privileged to see him. He sat on a chair by the door of a long, painted rock area similar to something you would see on an outdoor dining hall in the states. We weren't allowed to take any pictures, as doing so would be disrespectful.

We walked up to him by entering from the far side of the floor, walking up four very steep steps to  a floor of the same material (the only difference was that it was higher than the floor below). Before we advanced more than a yard away from the door, we wiped our shoes by holding a small towel on the floor with one foot while scraping the bottom of your other foot with the towel.

After this, we would walk up to the chief, who was higher than us because there were four similar steps to a chair he sat in. We bowed to show our respect and said "Kaselehlie," which is a standard Pohnpeian greeting. After all of us had done this, the chief talked a bit about his position and told us some history about chiefs in Pohnpei. I forget the details, so don't quote me on this, by he may have been the owner of the land that Nan Madol is situated. Nearly all the land in Micronesia is privately owned, and of all the land to own, he picked a pretty good spot.

We also saw a Village Chief who was below the rank of a Paramount Chief. He didn't stop to talk to us, but we stilld paid our respects to him. Village chiefs have much less power than Paramount Chiefs, but they are still chiefs. I'd have to read a lot about chiefs in Pohnpei to completely understand but that's not something I have time for.

Speaking of which, it is now 12:15 A.M. Saturday June 29 in Pohnpei, and I'm exhausted. I'm in one of those states where I cannot type with my eyes open. I'll pick up where I left off in the morning.

Ended 12:17 A.M.


Started 2:54 P.M. Sunday, June 30, 2013

Wow. It's been a while. time for me to get back to business. I've already done today's blog, so once I finish this and day 6, I'll be back up to speed.

Anyway, after seeing the village chief, we began our trip down to Nan Madol. Nan Madol was constructed on a lagoon, and as such, it is a series of small artificial islands linked by canals.

Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons: Author - Holger Behr
I don't know the names of the specific places we went, but I can show you some pictures of where we walked through.
Walking through the first canal leading up to the Nan Madol ruins

Looking up the canal. Note the man-made wall on the right

Walking through an entrance into part of the city

Nan Madol is made of basalt that bears a striking resemblance to the columnar basalt columns in Eastern Washington. However, it is unknown if this actually is columnar basalt. The basalt walls were extremely thick... 2-3 meters in most cases. Whoever built Nan Madol put a lot of work into it, and the scientific knowledge of the culture was obviously very advanced.

But with these huge basalt walls in a remote location, how the heck was this city built? Pohnpeian legend says that Nam Madol was built by Olisihpa and Olosohpa, two twin sorcerers from the mythical Western Katau. The twins arrived in a canoe and built an altar off Temwen Island so they could worship the god of agriculture, Nahnisohn Sahpw. There, the twins used a dragon to transport the huge stones to Nan Madol. Eventually, the reign of these brothers and their descendants ended when Isokelekel, who is considered the "Father of Modern Pohnpei." Isokekelel resided at Nan Madol, but his successors abandoned it, leaving it in ruins.

Below is a picture of a significant tomb in Nan Madol. This tomb was right in the middle of the city and probably housed a very significant person or very significant people.

Walking into the tomb

Inside the tomb

Looking outside the tomb
There were some more cool features in Nan Madol. There was this little tunnel thing below...

... and there was an entrance to a prison that did not look inviting. We had some guides, and they advised us not to try to enter the prison area for fear that we would have trouble getting out.

Nan Madol is a sacred place. It is very disrespectful to make loud noises, as it may awake the spirits that reside there. This was told to me. Unfortunately, I forgot. Me and another girl on the trip decided to climb to the top of a rock and were so exhilarated that we spontaneously made Chewbacca and chimpanzee noises, respectively. We were scolded by one of the trip leaders and then felt horrible that we had forgotten this very important rule. We apologized sincerely to the native Pohnpeians who acted as our guide, and they forgave us in a respectful manner.

Our Pohnpeian guides

Nevertheless, I had an absolutely incredible time at Nan Madol. I can't remember if this picture was taken before or after the Chewbacca incident, but it is a picture of me standing on the edge of a cliff next to the ocean. Looking back on it now, it was an unsafe choice, but man, it was awesome.

Livin' the life

We walked around the waters in Nan Madol before we went back and looked for marine life. We found a brittle star (which was indeed very brittle, we accidentally broke off the end of the leg extending more or less directly to the right, but it was fine).

We saw lots and lots of sea cucumbers as well, and some marine invertebrates that looked like sea cucumbers but we couldn't recognize.

Unidentified invertebrate

Unidentified invertebrate

Sea cucumber

I've seen plenty of these on this trip, but there are tons of bananas that are grown on the island. Banana bunches are far bigger than I realized, and they sprout from these giant flowers that hang down from the tree.


We saw this really massive tree on our way back, which looked straight out of Tarzan. Trees in the Pacific Northwest such as the Douglas Fir are probably taller, but these trees look more impressive because they don't have a singular trunk... they spread out in all directions. It's extremely cool stuff.

On our way back, we stopped at a clam farm that specialized in clams for aquariums. We saw Julian's (our professor's) favorite clam, the Tridacna Maxima, or Giant Clam

Tridacna Maxima

Likely Tridacna squamosa, but perhaps Tridacna squamosa

Finally, we saw some other organisms that were growing. They looked to me like they were corals. They could have been anemones... I didn't want to touch them.

Acropora (genus) or Porites rus

It was a super busy day, but what day here hasn't been super busy? It's been spectacular through and through. Thanks for keeping up with my updates, I sincerely appreciate it.

Time for dinner!


Ended 5:56 P.M.

Micronesia: Day 4


Started 4:49 P.M. on 6/28/13.

Again, I'm trying to play catchup. Thankfully, this post shouldn't take too long. Days 5 and 6... well... let's just say I've got my hands full.

Wednesday was an interesting day. After a much-needed sleep after our trek on Tuesday, we woke up and analyzed our data. We actually got some more data on a similar excursion today, so I'll post all the data and my conclusions when the mangrove unit is completed. But first, let's take a look at some of the videos I was able to record today from our boat/mangrove trip.

We went to the Soundau Estuary to do our data collection. The boat ride was around an hour. A man named Pelsen who worked at the Office of Fisheries on Pohnpei was the main navigator for the boat. I ened up talking to him often throught the trip - he's a good guy. He even gave me some betelnut! I didn't particularly like it though.

The Soundau Estuary was spectacular. I wasn't expecting it to be so closed in... I was expecting a much larger and more open estuary. It was one of the coolest, most beautiful yet thrilling places to travel through.

In class, we talked about mangrove-human interaction and how humans benefit from and are a threat to mangroves. So, what are some ways in which mangroves benefit humans?

First off, they make fantastic climbing material. You have to use all four of your extremities to keep from falling in the mud. The Rhyzophera trees with the prop roots are probably the best for climbing. The worst? Probably the Sonneratia. However, I know many a daredevil who may disagree.

Mangroves are a great source of wood. This wood is primarily used for making handcrafts or for burning. The wood from the Xylocarpus is extremely good for carving beautiful crafts, and as such, we have seen several Xylocarpus stumps in the mangroves. We haven't seen any clear cuts, though, and this is a very good thing, as Julian would probably have a seizure if he saw one.

The biological habitat provided by the mangroves is very diverse. "You're not in a golf course anymore." We've seen small crabs and fish, and apparently there is a larger crab known as the logically known as the "mangrove crab" that I have not seen. The soul is very fertile because of all of the falling leaves, and since the mangroves are so protective, they make extremely good fish spawning habitat.

I always love a good storm, but I'm not a fan of soil erosion. The good thing is that mangroves do an excellent job of protecting the coast from soil erosion. Imagine you are some mean-natured wave that's trying to cause harm to the local topography, and then you run into a mangrove swamp that extends into the interior of the island as far as the eye (if waves were organisms who could envision the world) can see. It's not too different from trying to excavate through miles of mangrove muck yourself. You can try, but at some point, you will fail. Guaranteed.

Storms may erode the coast, but wave action also deposits sand and other sediments on the coast to create beaches. Each beach has an input an output of sediment, and if the input exceeds the output as it usually does in relatively calm times, the beach will grow. Mangroves make this growth of coast much easier. Take it from me; it's not easy to get in the mangroves, but it's nearly impossible to get out.

Mangroves inhabit a lot of coastal areas and grow quickly, so they are great sequesters of carbon. I don't know the biology and climatology of carbon sequestration by photosynthetic organisms and mangroves in particular, but I'm sure that these mangroves would help reduce the impact of global warming by taking in carbon dioxide. As to how much, I have no idea. Global warming isn't going to happen. It's happening, whether you like it or not. The signal may be weak now, but it will increase exponentially as time goes on. By 2100, our planet will look completely different. Alright, rant over.

There are many other benefits of mangroves, many of them subjective in nature. But one benefit that I experienced today (6/28) is the amazing ability of the Rhysophera stylus to defog a snorkel mask and keep it defogged. I've never tried anything to defog my snorkel mask other than pull it off my face, let it fill with water, and then force the water out of it by putting it back on my face and blowing my nose. Today, I rubbed the stylosa against my mask, not expecting to see any improvement. Instead, the difference was mind-blowing... my mask did not fog up once. It was a good experience.

Alright. Now onto some threats. We actually broke these threats up into two categories: one for the threats that Pohnpeians are imposing on their mangroves, and the other for global threats to mangroves.

Pohnpeians pose a significant threat to mangroves. As previously discussed, they chop them down for wood, particularly species of the Xylocarpus genus. Many times, this is clearing for farmland to grow Sakau, which is a depressant drink similar to alcohol that is drank around here and apparently tastes utterly awful. When mangroves are logged, and especially if they are clear-cut, the land can hold significantly less water and significantly more runoff will result. This runoff has negative effects for the citizens of Pohnpei as well. For example, the tap water is contaminated with E. Coli from pigs and humans, and is unsafe to drink unless boiled.

The destruction of coral habitat leaves the mangroves more exposed to storms, and the outward extension from the island of mangrove growth could retreat due to increased erosion. Oil spills can be disastrous... I don't think any have occurred within the barrier reef surrounding Pohnpei, but if a sizable spill occurred, it would have the potential to destroy the complete mangrove ecosystem. Julian was talking about an oil spill in a mangrove swamp somewhere in Oceania that completely wiped out the mangrove population. Thankfully, the mangroves actually recovered pretty quickly.

Destroying mangrove habitat for aquaculture also poses a threat. I don't know of any cases where this has occurred in Pohnpei, but Julian told us that massive amounts of mangrove swamps are being cleared in Vietnam for this very purpose.

Globally, mangroves have to adapt to changes to the water in which they currently grow in. Due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, water temperature will rise and the ocean will become more acidic. The sea-surface height of the ocean will also increase by as much as 70 cm by the turn of the century. And while 70 cm may not sound like a lot, keep in mind that these mangrove swamps are right at sea level. A change in sea-surface height would definitely affect their distribution.

Under global warming, the general consensus is that storms will become more intense. As a self-proclaimed atmospheric apprentice, I have a problem with this overreaching statement. What kind of storm are they talking about? A thunderstorm? A snowstorm? Or perhaps...

This is a logo of an organization is protected by copyright. Basically, I'm committing a felony.

The most often storms cited as being more intense are hurricanes. The general consensus is that global warming will not cause an increase in frequency, but it could make the major hurricanes that form even more major. This would make sense because hurricanes derive their energy from warm water, and the water in the oceans is expected to warm under global warming. However... it is important to realize that one climatic change (trapping more heat in the Earth's atmosphere) leads to many other changes... not just the heat of the oceans rising. And if that wasn't enough, the increase in heat in the oceans will cause a whole bunch of other changes. There are so many changes at play that it is hard, and in my opinion, misleading, for the media to promote these speculations as facts. I've seen many news articles that say scientists believe hurricanes will become stronger because of increased SSTs with global warming. At the surface, that is true, but there are many scientists who hold dissenting opinions. And yes, those who hold dissenting opinions do believe global warming is occurring. There is negligible debate in the scientific community as to whether global warming will or will not occur.

In any event, stronger storms = more erosion = mangrove hardship. This could be a big factor in the upcoming century.

With changing water temperatures, the range of mangroves will likely change. On average, the mangrove range is expected to advance poleward, but again, there are so many feedbacks and local factors at work that generalization without representation is outrageous.

El Nino and La Nina events have strongly affected Pohnpei and other Micronesian islands. During El Nino events, decreased rainfall can result as the trade winds weaken and the rain that would typically fall over Micronesia is transported eastward toward Peru. We don't know how these events will change in the future, but with so many changes in ocean and atmospheric physiology and chemistry, there will be some changes.

In addition to discussing mangroves, we saw a presentation hosted by the Island Food Community of Pohnpei. The main mission of this group is to support locally-grown foods on Pohnpei.

I loved the presentation. There was one Micronesian woman leading it, a younger Australian woman helping out, and another younger woman about the same age as the Australian. She started out with a pretty groovy statistic: there are 60 different varieties of bananas on Pohnpei. I go bananas for bananas, so I've been in good hands this first week.

The organization stands behind 5 main ideas that are known as "CHEEF."

Food Safety

 Island Foods is committed to preserving the history and culture of food on Pohnpei. I haven't heard of any feasts of Spam for special ceremonies. Traditional, local food doesn't have to always be served in a traditional way, but with globalization comes the threat of the eradication of individual, local cultures.

Half of the children the island have vitamin A deficiencies because they have a diet that now consists of processed foods such as white rice and top ramen. One third of adults have diabetes. This is not only due to a change in local diet but a decrease in physical activity. Local food contains a bunch of nutrients that have allowed Pohnpeians to survive here for centuries, and a diet of pure processed food cannot sustain good health. For more information, look up Dr. Lois Englberger. The Micronesia woman at the presentation just mentioned her name, but apparently she has done quite a bit of research pertaining to Micronesian foods.

Growing local foods in a sustainable way is good for the environment. Additionally, the resources and GHGs emitted by ships entering Pohnpei to deliver food is enormous. The practice of clear-cutting for takau is detrimental to the environment because it is done in an unsustainable way. Sakau is not a food... it is a cash crop, and the Micronesian woman at the presentation both disliked its taste and effects and criticized about how it has changed from a crop that people used for special ceremonies to something people will just sell on the street at night for a few bucks and drink for recreational purposes.

The economy is obvious... the Micronesian economy is very depressed, and 80 percent of their income comes from the United States. We are staying in perhaps what is the richest city on the island, and it still looks dilapidated. If all the money spent is just going to countries other than Micronesia, the economy will struggle. However, if the money is kept circulating through the local Micronesian economy, economic development will result.

Food security is not as much of a problem as it used to be... if Micronesia has a food crisis, they can just get some food from somewhere else. Unfortunately, this isn't necessarily true for all places.... there are many, many children around the world who experience chronic malnutrition due to a lack of food. If the Pohnpeians have enough food to sustain themselves, it gives them a feeling of comfort and ease. And this feeling is not at all unwarranted... people should take peace in knowing that their country is prepared for a drought or famine.

Goodness, I'm tired. It was another long field day today. I'm going to catch up on these blogs, I promise.

Ended 6/28/13 9:32 P.M.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Micronesia: Day 3

Wednesday, June 25, 2013

Started: ~10:30 P.M.

Hey folks. I'm pretty tired right now, so I'm going to do the day 3 post on day 4, which will be more mellow. Today was a research and adventure day out in the field. We went up the Sapwalap estuary to collect salinity samples and take counts of mangrove trees. As we went further up the estuary, the salinity dropped to near 1 psu. For comparison, Puget Sound is around 28 psu and the ocean off our coast is 33 psu.

The specific mangrove genuses we saw were Bruguiera, Sonnertaria, Rhizophora, Lumnitzer, Barringtonia,  Xylocarpus, Heritiera, and Nypa. I will post pictures of these bad boys tomorrow, but hiking through the mangrove swamps was more treacherous than I imagined. Due to my epilepsy and the risk that I have an unprotected fall in the swamp, I did not go into some of the mangrove regions that the rest of the group went into, and for good reason. Even the ones that I did go into had to be treated with caution by everybody. I ended up getting pretty muddy on the first stop I was able to go in (we had five stops; I went in 1, 3, and 5 if I recall correctly) and it wasn't long before I stepped in an especially weak point in the mud that covered these swamps, especially close to the water, and sunk down to my knees. I was definitely the dirtiest of the group, but that's just how I roll.

We took a salinity sample at a place in the morning on the outgoing tide, and the salinity was around 31 psu (practical salinity units). When we came back ~5 hours later, the tide was coming in, and due to the influx of saltier, marine water coming into the estuary, the water had higher salinity

We also went snorkeling. Due to my epilepsy, I was not permitted to wear a snorkel, but I sould still swim with fins and a mask. I saw some beautiful coral, man tropical reef fish, sea stars, and even a manta ray near the bottom 30 feet down. Remember Gill from Finding Nemo, the angelfish with the scar who lived in the aquarium tank and helped Nemo escape from the ocean? I saw one of those and was amazed. They are incredibly beautiful.

Just driving around the mountain in a boat was beautiful. We saw a dredged channel with two houooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmn                                        mgs......................................

If my word choice and sentence fluency is good right now, that's very impressive because Io am doing a miz of resting in my bed while tyuping c with my head.


Started 3:59 P.M. (6/26/13)

Wow, I really was tired. I did not know that I had my hand on the keyboard for those letters. I'm just going to keep that stuff up there because it's hilarious. Not only do I get tired easily, but yesterday was an absolutely exhausting day. We took a lot of interesting data, and we are currently analyzing it right now. I'll make another post about the data when we are done analyzing it and its significance for the Sapvalap estuary, other places on Pohnpei, and the mangrove habitat in general, both on Pohnpei and worldwide.

When I first came into the program, I just thought that mangroves were these shrubby things that grow along the coast in saline environments. I didn't know how they did it, but I didn't really care. I didn't see any flowers on them (it turns out that some of them have spectacular flowers), and although this is subjective, I didn't think they were particularly spectacular. They were more impressive than than the invasive Himalayan Blackerry that seems to pop up everywhere, but they could not hold a candle to the massive Sitka Spruce I've seen in Olympic National park. And even if they were prettier than blackberries, as was previously stated, they didn't bear delicious fruit (there actually is one genus that has some pretty amazing fruit, the Xylocarpus, but I did not know this at the time.

In this post, I want to go through the eight different types of mangroves we saw and some distinguishing characteristics of all of them. I'll also present some beautiful pictures from the boat ride to and near the mangroves. 

We left the dock at around 9, but I forget the particular time. We originally had three boats, but one of them had engine trouble, so we crammed all 13 of us in two small skiffs. The boat ride was an hour long, but it was absolutely beautiful. The first couple days were really rainy, but yesterday was dry and mainly clear, with only a few orographically-enhanced showers over the mountainous inland regions of Pohnpei. Today is even drier and clearer... the last time I checked the temperature (which was probably 2 P.M. or so, it was 95 in Kolonia (the most developed and most populous hotel on the island, and our hotel is on the outer fringe of it).

Anyway, here are some pictures of the boat drive over. All pictures are taken on my Nikon COOLPIX S6300 digital camera unless otherwise specified

Leaving Kolonia for the long boat ride to Sapwalap
Leaving the Kamar estuary with mountains in the background

More mountains

Looking seaward

Waves crashing against the barrier reef that surrounds the island

More beautiful mountains on a beautiful day.

A shallow coral reef we had to carefully navigate through

A cool house on an island away from Kolonia.

Some Pohnpeians on the island

Super shallow coral that has grown in the supposedly dredged channel adjacent to the island previously shown

People taking notes on the boats

A mountain that looks like a canine tooth. Probably the best looking tooth on the island (that's for another blog). Note the change in water clarity

Heading into the Sapwalap estuary
Finished ~5:20 (I told you this internet was slow!)


Started 7:03 P.M. (6/27/13)

Ugh. Here I am again, and I still haven't started the main section of my post. Well, let's get to it. I have a huge day exploring some ruins at Nan Madol. I thought the Micronesia trip for have more time for us to meditate and reflect on our feelings. Boy was I ever wrong.

I mentioned that I saw Bruguiera, Sonnertaria, Rhizophora, Lumnitzer, Barringtonia,  Xylocarpus, Heritiera, and Nypa in the swamps. I have a bunch of data for these guys, but I figured I'd first stick to simple species identification and notable characteristics.


Alright, let's start with Bruguiera.

The Bruguiera's most distinctive feature (in my cocky opinion) is its "knee roots. These roots come out of the sludge/water at an angle and, after extending around 6 inches above the ground, make a  ~60 degree angle back to the ground to never be seen again. I guess it is possible for the same root to come up twice, but I'm just going to assume it generally doesn't because 'never to be seen again' is a winning phrase.

A good mnemonic device to remember the genus is that most people often bruise their knees (I can't remember the last time I specifically bruised my knee, though). I also think of Bulgaria. I'm kind of like Dory from Finding Nemo when it comes to memory, so some mnemonic devices help me, especially if I make them up myself. They don't have to make any sense, but if I pick a word to associate with a genus, it sticks in my head better.

"Knee Roots"

Let's talk about leaves. The picture below is kind of blurry, but it gives a good idea of the typical characteristics of the Bruguiera leaves. The leaves are pretty large (10-20 cm) and occur in these radiating clumps at the ends of branches. They are skinnier and shinier than some of the other mangrove leaves, and I personally think they are the easiest leaf to identify.

The Bruguiera are big trees... they can grow to 25 meters, and like many other mangroves, they are spectacular once you can stop focusing on sinking into the super slimy sludge that they inhabit. They have rough bark that is darker than that of many other mangroves, and they often grow in tandem with Rhizophera, which is another species I will get to later on.

Bruguiera leaves. Photo Credit: James Kohn (another awesome student on the trip)

Many mangroves have these viviparous seedings called propagules. As such, the seeds and fruit germinate and start to grow before they drop from the tree. Propagules come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, but the ones that fall from Bruguiera are, as my field guide says, "cigar-shaped" and 10-20 cm long. I don't like the whole cigar analogy... I've never smoked one, but I have seen them. I think these propagules look more like a miniature, very skinny cucumber. However, this might be hard for some people to visualize as cucumbers this skinny do not exist, so I guess the cigar analogy will do.

One very interesting, ingenious strategy that propagules use to effectively propagate is their use of the natural buoyancy of water. When these propagules fall from the tree onto the muck they reside in, they will generally stand vertically, and they will start growing. If they fall into the water, they rest horizontally at first. But as Father Time continuous to turn babies into toddlers, historical structures into condos, and trans fat into heart disease, these propagules absorb water through the root tip, and due to the now increased density of the root tip, the propagule lies vertically in the water.

Below is a picture of a propagule with the red flower from the tree still partially attached, and below that is a propagule that has turned vertically in water.

Alright, enough of that. It is now 8:12 P.M., which means I am making serious progress. Well, at least I don't have any more pictures to upload at this time, so I can just tell ya'lls some basic information about the different genuses of mangroves and hope that I am somewhat accurate. I've memorized every single species and can tell the difference just by hearing the ever so slight sounds they make as they grow, but I don't have time for that as a blogger. Besides, you wouldn't understand anyway... it's beyond your cognitive abilities.

Alrighty. Next up is Sonneratia. This particular mangrove is pretty darn dangerous. I'll show you a picture of its roots. It should speak for itself.

pencil roots (my photo)

more pencil roots - Photo Credit: James Kohn
These roots are known as "pencil roots," but I think they should be called "torture roots." Why do I say that? Well, I just thought that if one really, really evil person was trying to get answers from a prisoner, they could tie them up to a mangrove tree, take out some of these roots, and stab parts of their body and nail them to the tree until they finally gave in. I used to not associate roots with instruments of torture. After seeing these roots, however, I can't associate them with anything else.

These trees can grow to 15 meters tall and have leaves that are smaller and proportionally wider than the Bruguiera. These leaves average 7 cm on a mature tree and are rounded and opposite of each other on the branches. This mangrove is colloquially known as the "Mangrove Apple," and is called such because the fruit (propagules) look like small apples. An interesting tidbit on Sonneratia is that the flowers only last for 24 hours. Enjoy them while you can, but if you miss them, there will be a brand new set of flowers a few hours later.

The bark on these buddies is greyish-brownish, and it is slightly cracked. Sometimes its hard to find which torture devices are associated with which specific tree, but if you see those spikes, you can be sure that there is an least one Sonneratia around.

A singular Rhyzophera
Our next serving of our eight-course meal is the mangrove we all know and love: the Rhyzophera. I say that this is the mangrove that we all know and love because it loves to inhabit the shoreline and is the most common in general. When you see mangroves from a boat, you are probably seeing Rhyzophera.

Rhyzophera on the coast off the Sapwalap estuary
These mangroves also have extremely distinctive roots. Instead of going underground and popping up as tripping hazards or a torture device straight out of Saw, these roots are helpful, kind, and inviting. Prop roots extend downward into the soil from the trunk of the tree, with the most roots congregated at the lowest part of the trunk.

The leaves are fairly long... about 10cm to be exact. They are easily distinguished by brown speckles on their lighter green underside, and just like the Brugueira, they tend to form in clumps on the end of branches.They also have some white flowers which are pretty boring but a nice addition nonetheless.
Rhyzophera leaves and flowers

Professor and trip leader Julian Sachs pointing out some characteristics of Rhyzophera.

Keeping with the cucumber analogy, these propagules are like those of the Brugueira, but even longer and skinner, and therefore, less like a cucumber. I think the best analogy for these propagules would be to compare them to those super long Laffy Taffy candies. I doubt they are as delicious though.

Rhyzophera propagule
Some of the propagules of Rhyzophera mucronata can get extremely large. Check out my baseball skills below.
Using an extremely large propagule as a baseball bat. This picture was taken two days after our Sapwalap mangrove expedition (today) in Nan Madol, which is another adventure that will require extensive blogging
Rhyzophera mangroves generally occur in the intertidal zone, where the roots are exposed during low tides and submerged during high tides. I saved the picture below because Julian told me that those huge strands hanging down from the tree are actually prop roots. He said they weren't standard prop roots, but they still got nutrients from the water and delivered them to the plant. That's pretty impressive.

More Rhizophera trees by the shoreline of the Sapwalap estuary

Next up is Lumnitzera. I don't have any photos of this genus, which is probably a good think because it is now 9:46 P.M. In any event, these mangroves don't grow to extraordinary heights, as the tallest of the two species in the genus only reaches a maximum height of 6 meters. The other I have discussed have very identifiable root systems, but the roots of the Lumnitzera are primarily underground, with the occasional knee root popping up here or there. The leaves are small (7 cm) and light green, and they have a little indentation at the end that distinguishes them from other mangroves.

The tree has red or white flowers depending on the species, and some of the Lumnitzera are hybrids and have pink flowers. The bark is grey-ish and rutty. These were not a common sight on out expedition... perhaps because they prefer water the inland sections of mangrove swamps. We only went 50 to 100 meters in.

Barringtonia also do not have any recognizable above-ground root systems, but they are still identifiable (especially at close range) because of their beautiful flowers. These flowers hang down like beautiful necklaces (that have been unchained, of course). These guys can grow to 20 meters, and they have very large leaves... up to 40 cm long and 15 cm wide. The bark is grey and smooth. It's probably just because I'm learning about mangroves for the first time, but all this bark stuff makes me confused.

There is, however, one bark that I instantly recognize from a distance. This is the bark that belongs to Julian's favorite mangrove: the Xylocarpus.

buttress roots
 There are a lot of things to like about these trees. First off, they can get extend to 25 meters above the ground. This may not sound like a lot, but when you take a look at how intricate  these mangroves are and how there is not much of a singular trunk, these beasts are very impressive.

Anyway, back to the bark. It's easy to recognize because it is not brown or grey. It is tan, and sometimes, it even looks pink. If you are close, you'll notice that the bark flakes off if you rub your hand against the tree. Don't worry, the tree won't disintegrate and fall to the ground if you rub too hard for too long. The leaves are small and oval-shaped compared to the other mangrove leaves that I know of.

The above picture shows the "buttress"  roots that are unique to the Xylocarpus, although they occur to a much lesser extent in Heritiera. These roots provide wonderful habitat for trekking humans to get a solid hold on without falling into the mud. And they are absolutely beautiful. They look like a maze of strong, wavy walls that spread out in a million directions. Julian told me that these roots were cool, which I had trouble believing because I honestly didn't see how roots would be cool. These roots where spectacular. Still, they come up second place to the roots of the Sonneratia.

A chunk of fruit from the Xylocarpus

These mangroves are also interesting because they form these huge fruits that are arranged in amazing patterns. The fruits can get to the size of bowling balls before they finally call it quits and drop from the tree. Even more amazing is how they are structured. There are a whole bunch of "puzzle pieces" to the fruit which, in my opinion, are shaped like small 3D rhombuses. They are about 1.5 cm long if I remember correctly, but that could be off. Anyway, the number of seeds packed into one of these fruits is around 12-18. They are truly amazing to see. Even though the roots come in second to the Sonneratia, this is my favorite mangrove because of its bark and its amazing fruit. I've never eaten the fruit, and I don't know anybody who has. It is something I would like to try at some point, though.

Time update: 10:28 P.M. Two more genuses to go through. I can do this.

Our next guest is Heritiera, and I hope you will all give him a warm welcome. Heritiera is, in some ways, the chief of the mangrove jungle. I say this because it can grow to astonishing heights - up to 30 meters. I've never seen one this high, but can you imagine a mangrove extending to 100 feet above the ground? I know I can't.

Keeping in line with my mnemonic devices, I've labeled the Heritiera as a tree that has a heritage and has been around a long time. Most of the Heritiera we saw were small, but the tree's leaves looked like they belonged in a retirement home. Not all of the leaves looked like this, but a disproportionately large number of them did.

This leaf has seen the wonders and horrors of its life, and as such, it's a great psychological resource for those who would like some solid advice from a counselor that can help them navigate through life's many difficulties. 

It has buttress roots, but they are not as defined as those of Xylocarpus. In any event, the leaves are easy to identify. Not all the leaves look like they are celebrating their 50th birthday, so here are some general characteristics: the leaves grow up to 30 cm long, a dark green base, and have a silvery-white undersurface. The bark is nothing to get excited about... it is grey-ish and relatively rough just like everything else on the island. It does not have a hint of brown though, so that helps.

  WOW. It's 10:45 P.M. and I am absolutely exhausted. This blogging stuff is harder than it looks.

Our last genus is Nypa. These dudes were pretty rare where we did our research... even though they are very distinctive, I only found two on the entire trip. To make things simple and save time, they look like a palm tree that explodes out of the ground. There is no bark because there is no trunk. The fruit it produces is actually pretty groovy... it has a spiky surface and can grow to the size of a soccer ball. This is another fruit I'd love to eat.

On a side note, it's really, really great to see coconut palms here. I've seen lots of palms in California that honestly annoy the dickens out of me. They don't have coconuts, they don't have dates... nothing. But these palms... these palms are useful. I've had some coconut juice (it isn't milk... there are no breasts involved).

I apologize if my writing isn't very fluent or if I have typos that I didn't catch. This post took a ton of effort and I don't want to spend all of my time in Micronesia on a computer. I am proud that I finished this though... in addition to helping others learn about mangroves, it is a great review and learning experience for me.

One more picture looking into the depths of the mangrove jungle. It is 11:17 P.M. Over and out