Today’s experience on the island of Martinique was a varied one. The day started in the classrooms of the Martinican University and ended with hands full of Martinican treasures at la Galleria, the local mall. In between these two cultural immersions, an afternoon of environmental immersion was welcomed by all. The students on the trip spent the afternoon amidst the Martinican mangroves, exploring the intricacies of this delicate ecosystem on kayaks and interacting with the environmental elements closely – for some, more closely than they could’ve imagined! The seagrass mud of the mangroves, known for it’s moisturizing and remedial qualities, was slung playfully at the students by our eccentric tour guide, Virginie, who was accompanied by her less aggressive comrade Gladys. The students, on two-person kayaks, were guided around the mangrove and shown the flora and fauna of this unique ecosystem. The red mangroves are the most easily explored of the mangrove population, and are mostly indigenous to Martinique and Guadeloupe. We got to observe the unusual root system of the mangroves, interacting with the exposed roots above the water level and the way in which the wildlife interacts with this system. The animals present in the mangrove – small, spider-like crabs and clustered, pearl-white mussels, interact with the roots and brackish water system in a symbiotic way, utilizing the resources of the ecosystem by using the salt and oxygen filtered by the mangrove roots and leaves to live off of and providing respiratory and organic processes to maintain the balance in the water. The mangroves were also explained to us as useful resources for the people in the area, providing protection from natural disasters such as hurricanes and cyclones. The tour-guides explained to us that many people harbor their boats deep within mangroves during these destructive storms to utilize the thick mangrove bushes as filters for the gale-force winds and rains. During the tsunami of 2004, those people who had homes behind mangroves were provided with more protection than those more exposed.
The experience of interacting with the mangroves at a very intimate level allowed for a more complete understanding of this ecosystem for the students, as well as an exciting opportunity to enjoy the Caribbean sun and outdoors, and mud!