Bizarre mangrove world,

litorally most hostile

oozing odd objects.

Pneumataphores gasp,

anaerobic soils rinsed by

anoxic water.

Strange life forms beckon.

Viviparous propagules

seeking distant soils.

This weekend I had some business in Abu Dhabi, so I took the opportunity to find out a little more about the city of excess. It proved to be a great weekend for UNLEARNING*.  Forty-eight hours are not enough to claim that I know much – either about Abu Dhabi or about mangrove trees – but here are some  things I unlearned this weekend. Maybe you too will unlearn one or two items…
…and I’ve even thrown in some haikus as part of a desperate attempt to bump up my readership.
1. Abu Dhabi is not just about excess.
OK – it is mostly about excess: among the wealthiest per capita nations; highest per capita water consumption; fastest roller-coaster; most leaning building; etc, etc.

Abu Dhabi – a little off balance?

But in amongst those adolescent “look at me” gestures, there are some quieter, saner, activities to be applauded, and one of these is the emirate’s real efforts to protect and develop its mangrove ecosystem. And if you look carefully, in among the mangroves, you may spot a few brightly colored kayaks quietly conveying tourists like me to the edge of a strange alien world. As of last Thursday I can personally recommend the Noukhada Adventure Company if you are planning a trip. A fantastic introduction to mangrove magic, and a great antidote to the city of excess.

[“helping to develop eco-tourism for Abu Dhabi and the UAE through kayaking, sailing, blokarting and trail biking” – www. .

a peaceful, low impact, interaction

2. Not all mangroves live in swamps
My second unlearning of the day was that the words “mangrove” and “swamp” are not inextricably linked, as they seem to have been in my mind since childhood. Not all mangroves live in swamps, and not all swamps are hosts to mangroves. For some reason I always associate mangroves with (a) swamps, and hence (b) mosquitoes, and (c) crocodiles. I’m delighted to report that on Thursday I experienced mangroves up close and personal without even a whisper of swamp, mosquito or crocodile. And now I know that the correct term for the mangrove ecosystem is “mangal”. But take care! This word can also mean a Turkish barbecue, a Pushtun tribe, a Hindi font or a Bulgarian gypsy.

Mangal magic

3. There is no such thing as a “mangrove tree”.
(Less technically minded readers or those with an aversion to Latin may choose to skip this section)
This half truth surprised me. Unlike oaks, which all belong to the genus Quercus, or willows (Salix), “mangrove” is a term for many different families and genera. Like many tree “facts”, no-one seems entirely sure about the exact numbers. Estimates range from 7 (Guyana mangrove restoration project) to 110 species (Wikipedia) with a consensus vaguely discernible at around 60 to 70 species. We’ll keep it simple and colorful by mentioning just three main genera: Avicennia (9 species? – including the black and grey mangroves);  Rhizophora (8 species? – including the red mangrove, with the delicious name Rhizophora mangle); and Laguncularia (10 species? – but not all are mangroves – including the white mangrove, Laguncularia racemosa).
So – as you can see – all generalizations about mangroves should be taken with a large pinch of the salt which the grey mangrove, Avicennia marina, excretes from its leaves.

grey mangrove tears

4. The mangal is not useless marginal territory waiting to be put to better use by enterprising capital
If I had time, and you had the reading patience, I could fill another post completely on this topic. But I have zero credentials as an eco-warrior, so I’ll be brief. Sadly, it’s a common enough story of the early twenty first century: a natural resource, misunderstood, under-estimated, used and abused in the last century (in this case, mainly abused) and only slowly revealing its true value. Mangal has been described as the “supermarket of the sea” for its superior protection for the young of many, many forms of sea-life (think Nemo in the sea anenomes, but without all that garish Disney color). I’m reliably informed that it also boasts very high levels of carbon sequestration compared to terrestrial trees; and that its value as a tsunami-break (slowing and diffusing the power of the wave) is more and more recognized. In the Americas there is a growing conflict between shrimp farmers and those who recognize the true value of the mangal.  You can read about it in “Let Them Eat Shrimp: The Tragic Disappearance of the Rainforests of the Sea” by Kennedy Warne [Island Press, 2011].
So I hope  I’ve given you a taster for what I think is a little known and even less appreciated world of the mangal. There are many other wonderful oddities I’m only just beginning to understand. For example: the red mangrove has evolved a fantastic propagation technique called a “viviparous propagule” which germinates into a miniature tree while still attached to its parent, and behaves like a fishing float after it falls to the water, righting itself at auspicious moments to search for a suitable anchor site.
But I fear, kind readers, that even those few of you who have stuck with me this far may now  find your attention wandering like the propagule, looking for a new place to plant your attention…
One final comment on Abu Dhabi, and one thing I did not manage to unlearn, even after a personal visit, was just how extravagant is the Emirates Palace Hotel (of the “World’s most expensive Christmas tree” fame).

the house of bling


bling, bling… ka-ching

 I’m sure there is good to be found even here, but I decided to look elsewhere…  
Have you unlearned* anything valuable this week?        
* UNLEARNING – the healthy habit of re-visiting all those cherished prejudices and preconceptions which we use to get through the day without constant overload. Regular unlearning should, in my humble opinion, be mandatory for all over 25 year olds, but since this blog is for sharing, not preaching, I’m relegating this thought to a footnote.