05 November 2015


This photo of a mangrove swamp was part of a photoessay in the Washington Post, which focused on the lives of the children who harvest the cockles in the mangroves.
Ecuador is home to the tallest mangroves in the world: The Cayapas Mataje Reserve. Its soil is filled with small black cockles — a culinary delicacy prized in Ecuador — and the arduous task of searching for and picking those shelled creatures from the mangroves falls on the shoulders of children, who use their long limbs and agile bodies to scale the spindly branches of the trees and mine the thick mud that surrounds them.
My thoughts drifted to vague memories of reports of warfare conducted in such ecosystems and the pure hell that soldiers in combat must have endured.  I had thought I remembered battles in mangrove swamps in the U.S. Civil War, but for the moment the only reference I can find is to the Battle of Ramree Island in the South Pacific:
"That night [of the 19 February 1945] was the most horrible that any member of the M.L. [motor launch] crews ever experienced. The scattered rifle shots in the pitch black swamp punctured by the screams of wounded men crushed in the jaws of huge reptiles, and the blurred worrying sound of spinning crocodiles made a cacophony of hell that has rarely been duplicated on earth. At dawn the vultures arrived to clean up what the crocodiles had left. . . . Of about one thousand Japanese soldiers that entered the swamps of Ramree, only about twenty were found alive.
Some years ago I tried to hike through a tamarack swamp in northern Minnesota; the footing was treacherous and unpleasant, but presumably a log power easier than this mangrove tangle.  The other images in the photoessay give some insight into a life different from the ones you and I live.


  1. Hi.
    I wonder if you are thinking of fort Zachery Taylor?

    The WW2 Burma campaign by British/Commonwealth troops against the Japanese was nasty from what I've read.
    cheers another phil

  2. Despite the article's negative bias, dare I suggest that this activity might be fun? I think I'd rather climb trees all day than sit behind a desk. (But you can keep the crocodiles and other deadly creatures.)

  3. I saw a great many mangroves at Celestún Biosphere Reserve (a.k.a. Parque Natural del Flamenco Mexicano de Celestún). There were many huge termite mounds suspended in the roots above the water line. A lovely place, but I wouldn't want to make my living there.


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