On shells and trees in the Bay of Assasins
Around this time last year I was in a southwestern Madagascar, on an expedition studying the mangrove forests of the Bay of Assassins. An article I wrote about it has just been published by Hakai magazine.
We spent an extraordinary eight weeks, living in a remote community at the edge of the bay, venturing out every day into the mangroves. It was the first time I had worked deep in the heart of mangrove forests for days and weeks on end. There’s no doubt it’s tiring, muddy, difficult work. But it was an amazing opportunity to visit such a remote spot, to see giant old trees and encounter all sorts of wildlife (the mud skippers were my favourites, little fish sitting about on the top of the mud, in dry air, apparently unfazed by the lack of water at low tide).
Our mission was to gauge the health of the mangrove ecosystem and to learn what we could about how people rely on the forest.
During our explorations we came across an unusual activity involving seashells and mangrove trees.
People collect shells from the waters and sands of the bay. They eat the meat inside then keep the shells, not as decorations, but for a more practical use – to burn and make into lime render to strengthen their houses.
They do this by felling large mangrove trees to build lime kilns. This use of mangrove trees is a relatively new threat to the mangroves in the Bay of Assassins.
You can read more about the Bay of Assassins, the mangroves and the people who live there in my latest feature for Hakai magazine.