Sleeping beaty had several fairy godmothers like its neighbours on the African coast, the Gambia has mangroves. All kinds of plant detritus get caught in their aerial roots, including their own leaves. All that that decaying organic material eventually breaks down into rich humus, which nurtures the growth of new trees. When the old ones die, they make room for other crops.
An abundant population of fish flourishes in the tight lattice work of roots emerging from the enriched water, while oysters and various other shellfish cluster around.
The roots themselves. Meanwhile, oyster- catchers, birds attracted by the plentiful prey, perch on the tree tops.
For centuries roots, branches and trunks provided the basic materials for building houses, pontoons and ships masts. But the mangrove is much more than that or a source of food. Canoeing into the deepest little bolongs (salty waterways) that intertwine increasingly narrowly in some areas, such as the Bao Bolong Reserve in the middle of the country, is still a tremendously enjoyable experience. The canoe moves ever-more slowly beneath the mangroves lemming canopy, because either its passengers have their eyes peeled for a rare bird, the roots are increasingly thick or quite simply, the silence is so wonderful from time to time quite is broken by the sounds of rustling leaves and creatures diving into the water, the trip is twice as enjoyable when the canoeist can identify birds or describe the mangrove’s features.
There are two kinds of mangroves. It seems that a trained eye can identify the red type which is subdivided into three groups, by its leaves. It is easier to make out the tangle of roots very high up in the air, holding it up like stilts.
The roots of the white mangroves, which are rare , come out lower on the trunks reach deep into the mud and thrive at high tide. That’s why they grow closer to the river’s mouth. These trees produce fruit with seeds that sprout while they are still hanging on the on the branches. When the seeds fall into the water, they turn into a long reed, the radical, which is ready to become a new tree. The various stages between seed and full –grown tree unfold with marvelous precision. But any body who thinks that nothing could threaten such perfection would be mistaken.
Mangroves are shrinking everywhere, precisely because they are so useful to humans. Now they must come under the same kind of protected status as endangered species.
But they are not the Gambia’s only tutelary trees.