Richard MacKenzie

Pacific Southwest Research Station

Photo of Richard Mackenzie underwater, wearing goggles and snorkel.

When I was little, I used to come home from the creek behind our house covered in mud. I still do. I love that I get to study fish, insects, and shrimp in really amazing streams, wetlands, and mangrove forests. It is always exciting to put on my mask and snorkel and stick my face in the water to see some brightly colored fish or shrimp looking back at me (unless it’s an eel). One particular moment I remember was when we were sampling fish from a mangrove out on Yap Island in the Federated States of Micronesia. The moon was not visible that night, and it was pitch black as we kayaked out to the mangrove forest. Every time I put my paddle in the water, it would light up with bioluminescence from all the little microbes in the water.

I LOVE working in mangrove forests. I get to swim, climb trees, and get covered in mud almost every time I go out into the field. My mother says I was made for this job because I have been coming home covered in mud ever since she can remember. Every time I enter a mangrove, it is like entering another world. I feel like I am entering the Dagobah Swamp in the movie “Star Wars” and almost expect to run into Yoda. Towering trees are everywhere with many kinds of aboveground roots. Prop roots, for example, grow from branches downward and create real-life jungle gyms to climb. Some roots reach up toward the sky, and giant ribbon roots meander through the soft mud (see my picture). Tiny, beautiful colored crabs scurry all around. They are looking for food, trying to avoid being food, or madly waving their front claws at each other as they engage in mating rituals. Giant fruit bats slowly flap their modified hands and wings overhead like pterodactyls (ter ə dak tǝls) and parrots watch curiously from the trees as we work. It is like the articles I read as a kid in National Geographic.

The most amazing thing I have ever seen was in a mangrove forest in the Philippines. The Philippines are islands in the western Pacific Ocean. It was nighttime and we were motoring up a creek through the mangroves in our little boat. All that was visible were the black shapes of the trees along the creek. We came around a bend, and there was a SINGLE tree entirely covered in fireflies. It looked like someone had wrapped thousands of strands of lights around every branch. It was amazing and of course, I could not get a picture of it. The other aspect I really love about working in mangroves is all the different places to which I have traveled and all the friends I have made. It is fascinating to experience how different cultures live in and around the mangroves as well as how they use the mangrove trees. I feel
like I learn more from them than they do from me as a scientist. Lastly, I love doing research and setting up fun experiments to try to answer our questions. It is exciting to see the results after all the hard work that we do in the field.

Additional Resources

  • USDA Forest Service: Richard Mackenzie

    Learn more about Richard Mackenzie's research at his Forest Service profile page.
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