A mangrove commonly refers to two different things: a tidal swamp ecosystem found in tropical deltas, estuaries, lagoons or islands, and the characteristic tree species populating this ecosystem.
Mangrove trees have developed unique adaptations to the harsh conditions of coastal environments. They survive high amounts of salinity either by excreting salt through leaves, or simply by safely keeping it within their tissues. Their root systems are shallow and partly exposed to the air, which allows them to breathe in an environment that is frequently flooded and low in oxygen. Mangrove swamps are unique ecological communities that link freshwater and oceanic ecosystems and hosts a rich diversity of animal species.
Recently, we had the opportunity to visit two mangrove forests, in Perak, Malaysia and also the Sungai Buloh Wetland Reserve in Singapore. The visit to Kilim Geoforest Park in Langkawi, Malaysia was made during a family break in December 2013. To the lay person, a mangrove forest may not sound like an interesting or aspiring place to visit. However, their location by river banks or estuaries will give the chance for visitors to go for a river cruise or take a boat ride. Teeming with wildlife and picturesque sceneries, it will be a great experience.
MATANG MANGROVE ECO-EDUCATIONAL CENTRE, PERAK, MALAYSIA
DATE: 9 February 2016
On the way back way from the road trip to Singapore, we made a stop at Matang Mangrove Eco-Educational Centre. We left the North-South PLUS highway at Changkat Jering and then turned left. After this turn we didn’t see anymore sign boards for the place. After about 10 km of driving along a the Taiping-Kuala Sepetang road, we reached the entrance to the Matang Mangrove Forest. I knew we were near the place when we saw the mangrove trees to our right. The entrance fees were RM 3 for a senior (err….yes, the lady charged me a senior fee, though I don’t qualify yet) and RM 2 for our car.
The Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve is the oldest in the country. Matang was gazetted a permanent forest reserve way back in 1906. Eighty per cent of the forest is still used for the production of mangrove woods including Bakau Minyak and Bakau Kurap, on a sustainable basis. Covering an area of 40,000 hectares, it is the best managed tract of mangrove forest in the world.
We parked the car near the jetty, and went for the boardwalk. The mangrove trees here are much taller, easily more than 10 metres and are far more mature than those at the Sungai Buloh Wetland Reserve in Singapore. The trees have name labels written in Malay and Latin, but, are of not much significance to me, unfortunately. There are several timber chalets by the river bank, which I assume are for hire. However, they look rather unkept. I continued to stroll along the board walk and spotted a mudskipper resting on a mangrove root. The crabs were shy, but I knew they were beneath the mud.
Before leaving this forest, we went to the boardwalk near the entrance. Here, we came upon the oldest and largest mangrove tree at the centre. It was planted in 1947. Sadly, it is now reduced to a stump just over a metre tall. The mangrove tree was badly damaged by lightning in 2012.
Nik, myself and another couple got on an awaiting boat for the river tour. Just a few hundred metres along the river, we came to a fishing village. The fishermen here are largely Chinese, and being the second day of the Chinese New Year celebration, they were home to celebrate the occasion with family and friends. Thus, we saw many colourful boats lined side by side behind their houses. It was an awesome view. This fishing community is by far the largest one we had visited.
A boat laden with mangrove logs passed by and later we saw a few more such boats. These logs would be delivered to the nearby charcoal kilns. Mangrove logs make high grade charcoal.
Our boat made a turn and we headed to large open area to view the eagles. The boat stalled as we came to the mangrove area where the eagles were. The flock above the tree tops were visible from some distance. Our skipper made a loud bird call and then threw some food onto the water. The eagles, the White-bellied Sea Eagle, came in a big flock, swooping over the water surface catching the food with their sharp claws. I am not sure about the size of the eagle populations, but we saw more eagles here than in Langkawi. It was an awesome scene watching the eagles feeding.
The other lady on the boat requested to go to the nearby fish farm. Our skipper made one round along the perimeter of the small fish farm. The fish in the cages looked like Tilapia. There were also a couple of turtles in another larger cage. The vastness of the river made me feel like we were at sea.
Weary from the slow drive from Kuala Lumpur, we skipped the charcoal kilns and went for the prawn noodles stalls instead. There are many stalls here serving the dish-yellow noodles in slightly spicy and thick soup with fresh prawns. We ate at two popular stall-Mak Jah’s and Mak Teh’s. Nik and I agreed that Mak Jah’s Mee Udang was more delicious.