EXPLORING A MORICHAL
George was wearing shorts and after walking a bit, his legs looked like zebra legs but instead of black and white, they were red and white. I think I was wearing jeans but no socks so only my ankles were getting sliced by the razor sharp plants. We stopped to think over the idea of going to the morichal because we didn’t even know if it had clear water or running water at all. We looked around and saw no signs of other morichales, rivers, or creeks. The morichal did not even look like it had a water exit drainage, it was short, around 150 meters long. The idea of finding an isolated habitat which could hold unique species of fish or plants made us decide to keep on going and with a lot more enthusiasm despite the saw grass.
Mother Nature made the last 50 yards of our walk easier for us. She decided the tall saw grass was not enough and infested our path with a long shrub plant which locals call “Echa pa tras”. The English translation is “go backwards vine” but they are commonly called catclaw mimosa or the wait-a-minute shrubs. These shrubs are thin, grow very long, with almost no leaves but full of sharp hook shaped spines from be-ginning to end. Once you get tangled or caught by one or many of these vines, there are some steps you must follow: First, say “Ouch!” due to the pain, then stop, analyze the situation, and start pulling off the vines out backwards because you will never get them off if you pull them forward. So, even after pulling all the vines off, you are still left with hundreds of the little hook like spines in your skin or clothes.
By then, George’s legs looked pretty bad but I tell you, he tolerated the pain well and kept on going, making a joke out of the situation. We finally made it to the edge of the Morichal and it had water. We looked at the water from the edge which to our surprise was not at water level. The water was almost 9 feet under us, below a small vertical cliff like bank. The water looked clear but full of hair like algae which covered the floor, making it impossible to see how deep the water was and what was under it. All we could see was about 1 foot into the crystal clear water before the algae started but there were many fish!
Again, we analyzed the situation and decided that the only way to get down to the water was jumping down the cliff and falling 9 feet into the water. You may think this is actually a fun thing and that 9 feet is not high at all but we could not see if the water was 2 feet deep or 50 feet deep, if there was a large anaconda or croc under the algae, or what worried me the most… a vertical piece of wood with a fine point that could stab you as you landed over it. I decided that finding some isolated new fish species was worth taking all the risks and I jumped in. Once I splashed in the water, George asked me if I was standing or swimming and I said, it’s almost shoulder deep which seemed like all the info he needed and he jumped in landing right next to me. Again, we analyzed the situation and realized we could not move much around due to the large amount of algae, plus the banks where 9 feet tall from the already shoulder deep water! How where we going to get out of this morichal?
Speaking of morichales, I have never found medium or large rocks in them. The benthic sediments are mostly composed of thin white silica sand, mixed with plant litter. In spots where the moriche palm trees are spaced out and a lot of sunshine hits the water, large amounts of freshwater plants colonize the sand. It is common to find large patches of short green Eleocharis which seem like underwater lawns. In deeper areas, diverse types of Ludwigia create an underwater jungle and in some places filament algae grow in excessive amounts, below the crystal clear water. Some of the rarest fish I have found in morichales are the Dwarf Cichlid Apistogramma nororientalis, Freshwater Needlefish Potamorrhaphis guianensis and Parotocinclus eppleyi. Some of the most popular aquarium fish also live in morichales, such as Neon tetras, Rummy Nosed tetras, Motoro sting rays and Twig-Catfish.
After a couple of minutes that seemed like hours to me, George was done collecting fish. We decided that I would submerge myself into the algae, George would climb on my back and then stand on my shoulders. The plan worked, as I came up out of the water and stood up with George on my shoulders, he successfully held on to a tree root near the top of the cliff and got to the top. He then looked for a long branch and pulled me up. I still thank him for not leaving me in that 9 foot deep ditch.
The walk back to the car was as jolly as the walk to the morichal. George and I still cannot remember what happened to the Tiger Hyphessobrycon. I wish I had taken a picture of it right after we got out of the morichal so I could show it to you.
This article has been published at:
- Practical Fishkeeping Magazine – Spring 2018 Issue 5