Sarus Exchange Program 2011 The Mangrove Experience in Can Gio
With our nifty Sarus Straw Hats protecting us from the scorching sun, we were ready for a weekend in the sun -- and a lot of attention on the buses and ferries!
Our guest for the weekend, Dorothy Guyot, asks students why the leaf she is holding has such a long tip and why such a leaf would never be found in a temperate climate. Do you know the answer?
We pose for a group picture after getting off the ferry from Nha Be to Can Gio.
This photo was taken at the Can Gio National Park visitor center. From here we walked to a botanical garden where over thirty species of plants and trees endemic to mangrove forests are being grown, including a few extremely rare species.
After taking a walk through the botanical garden, a specialist from the national park fielded our questions. We positioned ourselves in a circle on the ground, carefully avoiding the spiked aerial roots. Does anyone have any ideas about why mangroves have aerial roots?
Liz Hollingsworth, a Princeton-in-Asia Fellow at Can Tho University, came along for the field trip. You'll see later how much she likes mud!
After the botanical garden, we boarded our very own private boat and took hour long ride down rivers whose banks were covered in dense forest. While we were less than fifty kilometers from central HCMC, one had the distinct feeling of being VERY FAR away from civilization.
After arriving at the national park outpost, we had lunch. We then met for a discussion about climate change in Vietnam led by Jenni Cochran, a Princeton-in-Asia fellow working at Soc Trang Community College. In these pictures, students are working in groups to discuss what interventions should be taken to address climate change in Vietnam. Students read articles about climate change in advance to prepare them for the discussion.
An interesting issue that came out of our discussion was that the Vietnamese and foreign researchers working on climate change in Vietnam often have different priorities. Does anyone remember what these differences were?
Thanh, the gentleman in this picture, works for our project partner, Volunteers for Peace Vietnam (VPV)
Notice that the ground we are sitting on has nothing growing on it. That's quite different from the mangrove forest or other tropical forests where the ground is teeming with plants and various other forms of life. Do you know why the ground here has only leaves? The answer lies in the type of tree we taking shade under.
After our discussion, we loaded into this truck for adventure into the depths of the mangrove forest, where we would eventually be planting mangrove seeds. Or are the seeds saplings? Who can explain the unique characteristics of a mangrove "seed?"
From the truck, we boarded small boats, to take us deeper into the forest.
The meeting points of of the ubiquitous and utterly useful water coconuts and the mangroves. A splendid dance of light on water as we settle into the golden hour. Stillness and silence. We move deeper into the forest.
After our boat ride, we took a hike through the forest. Before we could arrive at the tree-planting site, we had to cross a few streams/mud canals.
Liz, the trooper, whose shirt happens to match the foliage behind her. I wonder why those leaves are yellow?
It only gets muddier for Liz from this point forward in the trip. Have you managed to wash all that mud off yet, Liz?
At last! The field where we will be planting mangroves.
I can't remember who is showing off their muddy legs in this photo. But this was only a fraction of how muddy we got the next day. While it's hard to tell in this picture, the mud near the feet is much darker (and stinkier) than the mud up higher on the leg. Does anyone know why?
A naturalist from the national park demonstrates to us how to properly plant a mangrove.
Thuy was a drill sergeant, making sure the trees were planted in straight, evenly spaced lines. Not being spatially/geometrically inclined, I was particularly inapt at planting and received several amply-deserved tongue lashings from Sergeant Thuy.
While the picture doesn't do it justice, the falling sun provided us a brilliant field of gold -- which contrasted ever so sharply with the delightful play of pinks and purples on the horizon -- finally melting into a deep and melancholy blue above. Enter night.
Dorothy taught everyone a traditional Israeli dance that we practiced around the campfire. Before having a bond fire, we had a "circle meeting" where people were able to share their thoughts and feelings on the field trip and the Sarus Program in general. We'll be using these meetings on the exchange program this July.
After a restless night of being sucked dry by mosquitoes, the quantity and ferocity of which I have never before experienced, I climbed the observation tower to watch the sky open. Enter day.
Our tents below. The one closest to the photographer was the boys tent. The zipper broke in the night. Within seconds, a swarm of at least a hundred hungry mosquitoes (I'm not exaggerating) swarmed the tent and began their sanguine feast
We had to begin the day early in order to make it into the forest by 7:30am for low tide. It is only possible to explore the surface of the mangrove forest during this small window before everything is again submerged in water.
This is when it got really muddy. I'm glad Nhat Minh insisted on me not taking my phone and camera with me.
You may wonder why our boat is lodged in the mud. The answer is that it was low tide. Two hours later, our boat -- though unmoved -- was floating in the water again.
We spent several hours in the mangroves as the tide moved in on us. Everyone worked with a partner to conduct research on a topic of their choice. Topics included comparing different species of crabs, doing tree transects at different elevations, and trying to figure out why one particular species of plant has sharp, prickly leaves.
After cleaning up, we went back to the national park outpost, and shared our research findings with the group.
An up close look at one of the larger crustaceans. So guys, did you figure out why there are so many different colors of crabs?
After sharing our research findings, Dorothy led a session on Bloom's Taxonomy, where we looked at a traditional Vietnamese folk tale about a raven who can change star fruit to gold. We applied different types of critical thinking which are described in Bloom's Taxonomy as we analyzed the story.
After learning about Bloom's Taxonomy, we had to head back to HCMC. What a weekend! I know that I for one will never see mud the same way again. I can't wait to get back to a mangrove forest and learn more about this ecosystem of which I have only just begun to scratch the surface.