Mangroves and the shaping of Guyana's Coast | Mangrove | Coast

Mangroves and the shaping of Guyana’s coastline By Ramoutar Seecharran



Everyone living along the coastal strip of Guyana has come into contact with, or at
least heard of, the "Courida Bush", but to what extent this ubiquitous plant has
shaped our coastline, and ultimately our lives, we seldom pause to contemplate. It
is hoped that this discourse will stimulate thought, bring about awareness, and
eventually lead to measures aimed at its conservation.

Mangrove areas in Guyana
The mangrove is the characteristic tree of the coastal mud flats and marshlands of
Guyana. Worldwide, mangroves cover about one percent of the world's total area
and they are renowned as the plants that reclaim land from the sea. In Guyana's
case, mangroves have been building up our coastal strip utilising Amazonian silt
brought to our shores by the Guiana current, an offshoot of the south equatorial
current. Mangroves are almost as quick to take root and grow in the silt deposited
by rivers and oceans, as those sources are efficient in providing the silt to grow
on. Over geological time, this process of land reclamation has bequeathed Guyana
with this rich, alluvial mud flat on which we coastal inhabitants thrive.


Mangroves and the shaping of Guyana’s coastline By Ramoutar Seecharran

Atlantic Ocean currents
showing the currents
which carried
Amazonian silt to form
coastal Guyana
It is generally agreed that
species originated in the
Indo-Malayan region. This
may account for the fact
that there are far more
mangrove species present
anywhere else.
Because of their unique
floating propagules and
seeds, some of the early
mangrove species rode the
ocean currents to spread
westwards to India and
East Africa and eastwards
to the Americas, arriving in
Central and South America
between 66 and 23 million
years ago. During this time, there was an open seaway between North and South
America. As a result, mangroves spread throughout to the Caribbean Sea.
Later still, sea currents may have carried mangrove seeds to the west coast of
Africa, which at that time, was much closer to South America as the Atlantic was
opening. This explains why there are so few similar species colonising West Africa
and the Americas, whereas those
of Asia and East Africa contain a
much fuller range of species.
Rhizophora propagules,
Seawell Village, Berbice
The complex many-tangled root
system of the mangrove help silt
to settle, and once it has done so,
keep it trapped. When mangroves
have taken hold on a large scale,
a rising of the land level follows
as more and more silt is laid


Mangroves and the shaping of Guyana’s coastline By Ramoutar Seecharran

Eventually, what was a shallow, underwater or tidal mud flat becomes solid
ground. All mangrove species are able, through one form or another of specialised
roots, to secure and maintain a firm foothold in the soft mud. All of them, too, will
tolerate, to greater or lesser degrees, both salt and fresh water. This adaptation
serves them well since most mangrove swamps are flooded twice daily by the
tides. Some mangrove trees reach imposing heights of up to 30 metres; others are
low and shrub-like. All are evergreen species, most bedecked with shiny leaves
and small flowers.
Mangrove species often create new land by taking root in the mud of the seashore
and establishing a forward wall of plants that trap debris and silt.
The pioneer genus RHIZOPHORA (Figure 1), takes hold just above the level of the
lowest of the low tides. It can withstand almost continuous flooding because its
roots are particularly tolerant to salt water. As the land begins to build,
RHIZOPHORA is replaced by AVICENNIA. The roots of this genus (Figure 2), are
lapped regularly by the various tides,
but they too can tolerate high
LAGUNCULARIA flourishes higher on
the new land bank, its more sensitive
roots washed only twice a month by
the highest of all tides - the spring
Since one of the functions of tree
roots is "breathing", to take in
oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide,
mangroves are faced with a problem
in the oxygen deficient environment
of mud and tidal water in which they
live. This dilemma they have
The root systems are generally of
three types. In the most spectacular
form, the trunk sends many roots like
flying buttresses into the mud
creating an impenetrable tangle
(Figure 1). Another sends its roots
out horizontally, and every so often
each root makes a sharp U-bend
straight upward and downward
again, resembling a knee protruding
above the water in a bathtub (Figure


Mangroves and the shaping of Guyana’s coastline By Ramoutar Seecharran

A third type, instead of looping up and down, simply sends a protuberance,
likened to a stubby branch, up into the air (Figure 2). In all three cases the aerial
portions supply oxygen for the rest of the root system, and as the land level
rises, these unique adaptations send out new growth while the older roots are
gradually stifled and used as a binder for the loose silt below.
Mangrove trees have seeds that are specially adapted for a muddy environment.
One characteristic is that they germinate before they leave the parent tree; so that
when they hit the soft silt they are already seedlings set to take immediate
advantage of it, putting out their own roots and starting to grow. They are heavy,
fleshy and often shaped like plumb-bobs, so when they fall into the mud they
penetrate it deeply, planting themselves. These germinating seeds are also
capable of surviving considerable water voyages in case they are floated away by
tide or current. Because of the way in which they propagate themselves, each new
generation is planted about half a tree width further into the water.
In some areas, mangroves grow in such profusion that they are almost
impenetrable but there are also great stretches where they will grow only sparsely.
The reason for this disparity lies not just in conditions at the seashores but in the
composition of the great inland mountain ranges hundreds, or even thousands, of
kilometres away. If the mountains are granite, which disintegrates into fertile mud
on the long journey to the sea, mangrove jungles are almost certain to be found
on the coast. If those mountains are sandstone, the infertile silt deposited at the
shore will not support thriving mangrove colonies.
Almost all mangrove forests around the world are Government owned and
harvesting needs special permission. Economic use of mangrove forests is
greatest in South Asia. The National Mangrove Committee (NATMANCOM) has
been established in Asia to advise governments in the planning and
implementation of technical projects, and to determine the existing problems on
utilisation and conservation of mangrove resources.
In the Sundarbans in India, management of the mangrove forest has been in
practice for the past 100 years. Currently, it allows five percent of the forest to be
harvested every year. Under this system, small patches are auctioned off so that
all members of the community can participate, and at the same time, keep the
commercial operators out.
All trees above a pre-determined diameter are cut as long as their felling does not
create a permanent gap in the canopy. Under this system of rotation, each section
of the forest is harvested once in every 20 years.
Mangrove soils reclaimed as sediments from the sea contain a high proportion of
iron sulphides in the form of FeS and FeS2. This comes about when the sulphate in
sea water is reduced by bacterial action and precipitated out as sulphide.


Mangroves and the shaping of Guyana’s coastline By Ramoutar Seecharran

As the mangrove soils are drained for agriculture and the construction of harbours,
or fisheries ponds and canals are excavated, the exposure of the sulphide
sediments to air results in their oxidation and the eventual formation of sulphuric
acid thereby increasing the acidity of the soil. This acid formation is detrimental to
both plant and animal life.

Mangrove Fauna


Mangroves and the shaping of Guyana’s coastline By Ramoutar Seecharran

Laguncularia on Crab Island in Berbice, Guyana

Mangrove Flora


Mangroves and the shaping of Guyana’s coastline By Ramoutar Seecharran

The causes of mangrove destruction around the world are many:

Overexploitation by traditional users
Conversion of the forested area to aquaculture
Conversion of the forested area to agriculture
Conversion of the forested area to salt pans
Conversion of the forested area to urban development sites
Construction of harbours and canals through the forested area
Use of the forested area for the mining of minerals
Use of the forested area for solid and liquid waste disposal
Spillage of oils and other hazardous chemicals

Mangroves protecting Guyana’s sea defence

Mangrove degradation in
Nigeria, caused by oil
Mangrove forests are an essential
part of the Guyanese ecosystem.
In addition to providing fuel wood
and building material, they act as
the nursery and feeding areas of
many fish, crab and shrimp
species. In some countries,
mangrove bark is used in the
tanning of leather. The flowers of
mangroves produce excellent
honey, as is seen in the
Sundarbans of India and Bangladesh.
With rising sea levels, these mangroves become essential as Guyana's first line of
defence against inundation by the sea. In Indonesia, significant steps have been
taken to conserve the dwindling mangrove resource.


Mangroves and the shaping of Guyana’s coastline By Ramoutar Seecharran

Harvesters must leave an undisturbed protection zone 100 times wider than the
tidal range along the seaward margin and 50 metres wide along the rivers. In the
Cayman Islands the study of mangroves has been incorporated into the school
Since so much of our existence in Guyana depends on this unique, well-adapted
species, should we not spare a thought for this natural marvel and endeavour to
protect it so that it can in turn protect us.

Ramoutar Seecharran



Involvement of local communities in sustainably managing and protecting their
coastal resource base.
Lobbying multilateral lending agencies to stop funding aquaculture/agriculture
development, which involves the cutting down of mangroves.
Educating consumers in developed countries to reduce their demand for pondraised prawns and shrimps.
Encouraging education authorities to include the study of mangroves and its
ecosystem in schools curricula.
Enforced legislation.

degradation in

Mangrove in the
province of West
Papua in
Indonesia, near
the town of


Mangroves and the shaping of Guyana’s coastline By Ramoutar Seecharran



I’ve spent many hours studying the Sundarbans, concentrating on the West
Bengal branch. This section covers about 40% of the total area, the other 60%
being in Bangladesh.
Where the land meets the sea at the southern tip of West Bengal lies the
Indian Sundarbans, a stretch of impenetrable mangrove forest of great size
and bio-diversity. A UNESCO World Heritage Site (awarded in 1997), the
Sundarbans is a vast area covering 4262 square kms in India alone, with a
larger portion in Bangladesh. 2585 sq. kms of the Indian Sundarbans forms
the largest Tiger Reserve and National Park in India, habitat of the majestic
Bengal tiger, endemic to this specific area. The total area of the Indian part of
the Sundarbans forest, lying between the latitudes 21°13’ to 22°40’ north and
longitudes 88°05’ to 89°06’ East, and is about 4,262 sq km in area, of which
2,125 sq km is occupied by mangrove forest.

Mangroves of the Sundarbans in West Bengal, India
The Sundarbans are a part of the world's largest delta formed by three major
Asian rivers Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna. Situated on the lower end of the
Gangetic Plain, it is also the world’s largest estuarine forest. The Sundarbans is
renowned as being inhospitable, dangerous and monotonous. Dense mangrove
forests occupy the 56 islands and the remainder of the area is under saline water
which flows through numerous tidal channels and creeks. It is difficult to
approach and even more difficult to spend time in this swampy area, but for
those who dare, it is one of the most attractive and alluring places remaining on
earth. My childhood spent growing up in East Berbice in Guyana prepared me
well for the Sundarbans experiences.
Living among the fishermen, beekeepers and charcoal burners is a rewarding
experience. These impoverished people have so little, yet they give so much. A
family does not eat until the guest has been fed on the crudely made chapati,
dhal and kitcheree cooked in a clay stove (chhula) with mangrove wood as fuel.


Mangroves and the shaping of Guyana’s coastline By Ramoutar Seecharran

Cooking kitcheree for the
evening meal in the
Sundarbans on the
ubiquitous clay stove
(Chhula). Fuel wood was
Although I cannot speak Bengali,
we were able to communicate by
sign language and I was accepted
as the long lost Indian son who had returned to these shores! As I carried out
my studies and photography, the local people could not fathom why an educated
man came from the UK to live and study such primitive conditions in his global
peregrinations. My being there was the discussion of most household evening
cogitations around the ubiquitous mangrove fires. In my after dinner ruminations
and discussions, I’ve tried to stress the importance of sustainability and the
impending effects of rising sea level on the livelihood of these remarkable

The magestic majestic Bengal tiger of the Sundarbans, this
species is endemic to this part of the world

Mrs. Yayati strikes a
glamorous pose in the
Sundarbans outside of her
house, made from
mangrove poles


Mangroves and the shaping of Guyana’s coastline By Ramoutar Seecharran

The mudskipper of the Sundarbans, the cousin of
Guyana’s “four-eyed” fish
My recent arduous mining assignments in Africa have meant a long sojourn from
my beloved Sundarbans and I look forward to the day when I can resume my
studies there. I hope by the time I return, I would not detect any major
environmental degradations.

The author at the entrance to the Sundarbans on a hot and humid premonsoon night in May 2009, equipped with traditional Bengali garland
(mala) and cameras


Mangroves and the shaping of Guyana’s coastline By Ramoutar Seecharran

I know the government of West Bengal is keen in preserving the unique
ecosystem of the Sundarbans and the livelihood of its inhabitants; they have
“preserved forestry” legislation in force.

A boy poses with his fishing seine in
the Sundarbans

Mrs. Chakrabharty catches
fish with her fishing seine
in the Sundarbans in West

Mrs. Mukherjee proudly exhibits
her evening’s catch for the
outside world to see…….
…….sustainability is essential for
survival in the Sundarbans, this is
testimony of that!
In Bangladesh, this story is well known, and is the
inspiration of people who depend on the
Sundarbans for their livelihood.

On November 7th 1990, Koronamoyee Sardar was killed by an
armed gang of hired thugs. The businessman’s aim was to set
up a shrimp farm at Horinkhola Polder 22. The local villagers,
led by Koronamoyee, resisted this invasive force.


Mangroves and the shaping of Guyana’s coastline By Ramoutar Seecharran

On that fateful day, Koronamoyee became a martyr for her
cause, and in the eyes of her people she remains their heroine
in their decade long ongoing struggle against the surrounding
The supreme sacrifice of Koronamoyee is not forgotten. Every
year, on November 7th, there is a great celebration at Polder 22,
where thousands of resisters peacefully gather to commemorate
this brave woman who led a successful movement of the people
against a powerful, unscrupulous industry.
Today, Horinkhola Polder 22 is the only remaining shrimp farmfree village in the shrimp farming district of Khulna.
A great battle was won,……………but the war continues.


Mrs. Mishra, her
daughter Deepali and
grandson Ramakant
go about their daily
duties in the
Sundarbans, inure of
the business taking
place in congress in
Delhi, they have lived
their entire lives here
and know no other

The Bhattarcharjee
kids pose for a wide
angle shot, unaware
of the effect rising
sea level can have
on their homeland,
the Sundarbans


Mangroves and the shaping of Guyana’s coastline By Ramoutar Seecharran

Kids going to
school in the

A fiddler crab in the Sundarbans

Mangrove swamps of Mumbai. Without mangroves,
India’s commercial capital will be inundated by the sea at
high tide


Mangroves and the shaping of Guyana’s coastline By Ramoutar Seecharran

The author studying mangroves in the Maldives in 2014

Mangrove estuary in the Maldives

Mangrove root system building up land above water level
(Maldives Islands)

Mangroves and the shaping of Guyana’s coastline By Ramoutar Seecharran

Mangroves are intolerant to pollution which stunts its
growth and leads to its extinction. Countries like Guyana,
Nigeria, Bangladesh and India should learn from this
salient and scientific fact

Only mangroves can rescue island communities like The
Maldives, Vanuatu and Kiribati from inundation by the sea
due to rising sea level


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