Nature Escapes

The Cool Characteristics of Mangrove Trees to Survive Life at Sea

Mangrove trees have intertwined stilt roots that arc into shallow waters, while finger-like nubs rise above the water surface to breathe. Mangrove forests have special adaptations that help them survive the brackish conditions of tidal zones.

With over sixty different tree species, Malaysia's mangroves are extremely diverse and invaluable.

mangrove trees

Over half of Malaysia's half-a-million hectares of mangrove forests are concentrated in Sabah. The other major portions hug the central shores of Sarawak, while smaller parcels covet numerous lagoons and islands around Peninsula Malaysia.


Most notable are the mangroves in the Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve along the coast of Perak. Sustainably managed for over 100 years, this dynamic ecosystem generates timber for charcoal products and harbors a flourishing fishery commerce.

Mangroves ascend out of the muck and mudflats of estuarine deltas. Mature stands usually comprise from 20 to 30 species of mangrove trees and are divided into three distinct vegetative zones.

Each zone dominated by certain key mangrove tree species:

  • Avicennia-Sonneratia zone

    On the seaward edge, these mangrove species tolerate the soft soils loosened by daily tidal flooding and bury massive root systems just below the mud. These submerged structures have numerous air pockets for breathing and also send roots downward for anchorage and upward for absorption. To aid in regeneration, protruding lobes encompass Sonneratia fruits, thus allowing them to float atop the water currents.

  • Bruguiera-Rhizophora zone

    Sited on slightly higher ground, the Bruguiera-Rhizophora zone endures flooding only at high tide on more compressed soils. These mangrove trees are the most valuable for timbers. The zone is recognized by its height evenness and sprawling network of aerial, but eerie-looking root system. The elongated seedlings of Rhizophora hang like slender cigars, each one poised to drop off into the silty soil to start life anew.

  • Back mangrove zone
  • Clay content increases in the compact soils of the back mangrove zone. Mound-building crabs and lobsters raise the ground level another metre or so, where a thick understorey emerges from clusters of large ferns. Beyond the tidal reach, nipa swamp forests flourish in brackish waters, where the dominant nipa palm, with its large feathery fronds, grows in contiguous thickets on riverbanks.

mangrove mangrove flower

These coastal forests also harbour an abundant array of invertebrate animals - crabs, oysters, molluscs and crustaceans - that provide food for aquatic and human life.

Long bands of mangrove forest act as buffers against penetrating storms and protect coastlines from the pounding sea. And the nutrient rich waters and organic muddy soils provide healthy habitats for marine species, such as shellfish and cockles, and furnish breeding grounds for many fish and prawn species.

Mangrove habitats also provide shelter and food for other animals. Some, like the proboscis monkey of Borneo, are of particular importance because of their endangered animal status.

Even migratory birds - such as the Bar-tailed godwit - from faraway lands descend on Malaysia's mangrove swamps to take temporary refuge and 'refuel'. And monkeys and snakes live in mangroves as part of the wild menagerie.

mangrove mangrove

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