When most people think of mangroves, they unfortunately envisage smelly malaria infested swamps full of dangerous and deadly beasts. The mangrove’s bad reputation, which dates back to the age of Victorian explorers is tragic because these tidal forests, which effortlessly straddle the realm between land and sea are one of the most important ecosystems to grace our planet. They act as nurseries and are the ocean’s kindergarten for many species of fish, mollusks and crustaceans. Without mangroves coral reefs for example, so adored by the public would be shadows of their riotous diverse selves. Mangroves also protect against coastal erosion and are our first line of defense against sea level rise. During the 2004 Asian Tsunami mangrove forests even presided over who lived and died. Coastlines with intact and healthy mangroves experienced a less savage death toll than areas where they had been cleared. Despite these glaringly vital roles that mangroves play they are exploited with great vigor . Their formidable wood, largely resistant to wet rot and termites is much sought after to build boats and houses, but the greatest danger to mangroves is coastal development. Their prime seafront location is often a death sentence as large-scale clearing goes hand in hand with the development of tourist infrastructure, shrimp farming ponds and agriculture projects in many parts of the world.
As chief photographer of the Save Our Seas Foundation I have had the great privilege of exploring many mangrove ecosystems around the world. Photographing the tidal forests of Aldabra’s giant lagoon in 2008 rewarded me with a feeling of having traveled back in time to when our planet’s seas were still healthy and intact (Visit SOSF Aldabra Expedition Blog). Unfortunately however very few mangroves are as pristine as those on this remote Indian Ocean atoll. Halfway across the world on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula the development of the resort town of Cancun laid waste to large tracts of mangroves in the 1970s. More recently tourist development began to expand south and today some of Mexico’s wildest tropical coastal landscapes are under threat.
The International League Conservation Photographers (ILCP) is a collective made up some of the worlds best wildlife photographers and environmental photojournalists who use their images to help win conservation battles all across the world. I feel very privileged and honored to have been elected to become part of this family of like minded souls in 2007. In November 2009 the ILCP organized a RAVE to draw attention to the environmental degradation of not just the Yucatan’s mangrove forests but all of the peninsula’s natural habitats. Now you are probably asking yourself how a bunch of photographers organizing a new age dance party will help preserve this embattled Mexican Caribbean wilderness? Well……. let me explain: R.A.V.E is in fact short for a Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition and has become a key tool to address conservation challenges through the medium of photography. A RAVE aims to create a comprehensive photographic portfolio to help raise awareness of a threatened habitat, a species or conservation issue in a short period of time by sending out a team of photographers. While colleagues were sent off to photograph subjects as diverse as bat eating snakes, jaguars and endemic frogs in far flung corners of the Yucatan, the Save Our Seas Foundation funded the mangrove component of the RAVE and I was dispatched to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve to document its tidal forests.
Coming Soon: In part two of my Mexico Mangrove BLOG read about my 8 days on assignment in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve where I managed to track down the elusive West Indian Manatee, got up close and personal with a American crocodile and was nearly lost at sea in a squall.