Veld & Flora Feature

THIS FEATURE IS FROM VELD & FLORA MARCH ISSUE 109 (1), PAGES 14-25

#ENJOY

A mystery of mangroves

Their getaway in northern Mozambique set honeymooners
JOANNE & JONATHAN DEIGHTON a surprise puzzle

JULY 24, 2023 | WRITTEN BY PATRICIA McCRACKEN. PHOTOGRAPHS BY JONATHAN DEIGHTON

 

 

A mystery of
mangroves 

Above: Mangroves growing on coral reefs get fewer nutrients so are often stunted, says botanist Professor Eugene Moll.

 

HONEYMOONERS DO NOT OFTEN take a strong interest in the plants around them – but then Joanne and Jonathan Deighton were not ordinary honeymooners. Sitting back on the ride from Pemba airport to their honeymoon getaway in remote Mequfi, Mozambique, they looked curiously at the scenery around them.

Jono teaches high-school English in Durban and previously also taught history and geography. Joanne is a physiotherapist for the Sharks and her favourite school subject was geography.

Keen hikers, surfers and kayakers, they know their way around watery places.

“Swooping in over Pemba bay to land on a peninsula was an awesome sight,” says Joanne. “It is a huge natural port, with dolphins in the bay and a national park.”

Ahead was a short but very slow road to Diamonds Mequfi Lodge – just under 20 kilometres but it took about an hour and a half. So they had plenty of time to look past the puddles on the road and away from the hooting swerves round blind corners to the bush beyond.

 

Above: Living with mangroves – mangrove kingfisher

 

TREE SPOTTING

Baobabs first stood out. Then . . . “Mangroves! Can those be mangroves?” they asked each other as they studied the thickly packed, low-growing trees along the road.

Wattle-and-daub, thatched houses just over a metre and a half high appeared between the trees, often dwarfed by a giant mango tree.

“There was a stark contrast between the rural villages on either side of the hotel and the surrounding area,” Jono recalls. “These are people with a subsistence existence – you would have to be comparatively wealthy to own a goat, for instance. They really need tourism revenue to improve their lives.”

The couple discovered the lodge looked over a level, sandy bay with a shelf of rock and coral reef up to the north. To their amazement, more mangroves seemed to be growing even on the rocky reef, although apparently stunted by the relentless wind.

Flamingos poked around there and the prolific fish life attracted children with spearguns cleverly made from twigs.

A SPOT IN PARADISE

“It was a surfers’ paradise, too,” says Jono, “with a righthand pointbreak!  We surfed there when conditions were good. It was exciting because we were used to all the reefs being offshore in Durban and along the KZN south coast.”

The profusion of shells thrilled Joanne – “loads of large cowrie and conch shells and lots of pansy shells in just one square metre! Usually we are lucky to see just one!”

If they walked a kilometre or so north, they hit a tidal lagoon where walls of mangroves about three metres high clung to the banks. “We canoed up the river for about three kilometres, following the avenue of mangroves,” says Joanne, “and also found that there was a large salt pan behind the trees.”

 

Left: Purple mud crab. Right: Greater flamingos.

 

SECRET SPOT

Keen landscape photographer Jono was in his element, “but I was really reminded of how challenging it is to keep adjusting for lighting changes throughout the day!” They saw colourful crabs, mangrove kingfisher and other mangrove specials such as fiddler crabs and mudskippers, as well as plenty of vervet monkeys.

“We could walk for hours without seeing anyone – it felt like a secret spot,” recalls Joanne. “It was so quiet listening to the river lapping that even a crab plopping into the water startled us!”

Back home, they wanted to check out their mysterious, suspected mangroves – and Professor Eugene Moll of the University of the Western Cape, lead author of a landmark SA mangrove survey 50 years ago, says that photographs they took do indeed show mangroves.

“The mass of pencil roots is usually characteristic of white mangrove (Avicennia marina),” he says. “Some trees look more like black mangrove, which has knee roots and a more buttressed trunk.

“White mangrove has fairly soft wood but most of the stumps also look like black mangrove, which has durable wood and is used extensively in south-east Asia for building. Its wood resists boring by animals that live in the sea and which can otherwise demolish pier supports.”

 

This article was featured in Veld & Flora in the March 2023 edition.

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