Trees are yogis

Lord Krishna states in the Bhagwad Gita, “I am Peepal among trees”.  Trees are Mahayogis.  As an evolved human spreads divine aura, joy and peace, so do trees.  The moment it sprouts from earth, it spreads its arms (branches) towards the sky to receive all energies, head held high to get connected to universal life force for growth, yet rooted on earth.  It flows with natural forces, making itself stronger, taller and beautiful.


Radha Krishna

Trees always give just like the rest of Nature, teaching and reminding us that giving is the Law of Nature.  If we imbibe this, it will make the atmosphere pleasant and congenial for growth.  Tree is a Guru and reflection of the Supreme Provider..  It is the provider of bounties which are required for our healthy and natural survival.  That is why a tree reflects what it is to be alive, without thrusting and enforcing anything or being a doer.  It is alive till the last moment, and even when it perishes, every part of the tree is of great value.  There is no human habitat which does not have something made out of a tree or its produce.  Trees impart manure to earth  and its roots provide shelter to insects which live underground and nourish the soil.

No matter how much a human plucks its leaves and scratches its bark, the tree never retaliates.  It continues to be patient and does its karma.  Trees are a source of livelihood to so many.  Magnificent is the life of trees that spreads life force to all, giving shade to the tired souls and fruits to everyone, irrespective of caste, creed …….. and provide a restful abode to birds.  Trees are a great source of inspiration to writers, poets, philosophers and visionaries.  Wisdom dawns on those who do intense sadhna and dhyana under densely leafed old trees.  Buddha attained enlightenment under the natural canopy of the Bodhi tree.

big tree


Trees are the most beautiful poetic expression of Supreme Intelligence.  Trees are the embodiment of sensitivity also.  What you feel when you touch it or nurture it, reflects in its blossoming or flourishing the significance of feel.

Those who plant trees in faraway places bring salvation to ancestors and future generations, according to the Shiva Purana.  The one who plants Tulsi by igniting Vishnu, gets fruits of performing 100 yajnas, states the Padma Purana.
There is a shloka in Subhasittam : The tree provides shade while standing in the sun, bearing fruits for the benefit of others, like real virtuous SAT PURUSHA.”  Expect nothing from others like a true yogi and derive energy from the Eternal Source.  The Tree’s mission is welfare and nourishment for all, providing shelter and nutrients to even those who pelt stones at it, giving truly a great message of unconditional love by being most silent and graceful spokesperson of nature.  
Let us all realise and get enlightened by the purest wisdom of the Tree that plays the Divine Music of harmony and peace, in perfect sync with nature and like the tree, let us spread love an light all around.
—————— Meena Om.

 
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Dry deciduous forests of Madagascar

Avenue du Baobab


MORONDAVA is a city located in MENABE REGION of which it is the capital, in Madagascar.  It is located in the delta of the MORONDAVA RIVER.

The city is famous, amongst other things, for the spectacular AVENUE of BAOBABS nearby.  These giant BAOBAB trees are an 800-year-old legacy of the dense tropical forests that once throve here.  Over the years, as the country’s population grew, the forests were steadily cut down, leaving only the Baobab trees, which the locals preserved for religious reasons.  Today, deforestation still continues, as large areas of the region, including some of the few remaining Baobabs, are cleared to make way for sugar cane plantations.

Madagascar


The TSINGY de BEMARAHA STRICT NATURE RESERVE, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located 150km north of Morondava.  The road from Morondava is poor, but Tsingy de Bemahara is reachable b 4×4 in approximately 10hrs.  In the south there is the ANDRA NOMENA RESERVE.

KIRINDY FOREST is a nature reserve about 60km from Morondava, where many of the local species of lemurs, as well as other plants and animals can be spotted during a day or night trip.

TSINGY de BEMARAHA STRICT NATURE RESERVE


Here one can also see the DRY DECIDUOUS FORESTS that represent a tropical dry forest eco-region generally situated in the western part of Madagascar.  The area has a high numbers of endemic plant and animal species, but has suffered large-scale clearance for agriculture.  This clearance is on-going and therefore WWF has designated these forests as a GLOBAL 200 eco-region, one of the world’s most crucial regions for conservation.


Kirindy forest


The MANAMBOLOMATY lake area, in particular, is home to many species of fish and birds.  It is also home to distinctive limestone KARST formations.  The forest span the coastal plain with its limestone plateaus emanating virtually at sea level to higher altitudes to 800mts.  The area includes wetlands and grasslands as well as dry forest that has a “deciduous canopy” extending to a height of 14-30mts, and lower storeys with dense shrubs and saplings, which may also contain some evergreen species.


dry deciduous forests Madagascar


These dry deciduous forests of Madagascar possess a very high ratio of “species endemism”, although the absolute number of total endemics is less than the wetter eastern rainforests of the island.  Trees have adapted to the drier climate by shedding leaves in the dry winter season (May to September) to limit evapotranspiration.  Moreover, some species like Baobabs have adapted by evolving the ability to store copious water in their large bulbous trunks.  An interesting feature of these dry forests is the presence of PACHYPODIUM HABITATS, often associated with hot dry conditions of life in a landscape of canyons and tsingy (limestone karst outcrops).  One well-known area is ANKARANA.

Several of Madagascar’s characteristic lemur species are found here including the fat-tailed dwarf lemur, 5 species of PROPITHECUS, 3 species of LEPILEMUR and 5 species of MICROCEBUS.  Endemic mammals include 3 endangered species ———-golden-crowned SIFAKA, Perrier’s SIFAKA and western forest rat as well as mongoose lemur, northern rufous mouse lemur, pygmy-mouse lemur, golden-brown mouse lemur, Milne-Edward’s sportive lemur.

dry deciduous forest Madagascar


As well as lemurs, the dry forests are home to the island’s largest predator, the FOSSA, and some smaller carnivores.  Among reptiles, the ANGONOKA TORTOISE is also endangered.  The lakes and rivers of the dry forest region are homes to most of Madagascar’s bird species.


ANGONOKA TORTOISE


The dry forests have almost entirely been destroyed by overgrazing and deforestation and there has also been slash-and-bur subsistence farming in much of the area, reducing forest habitat and applying pressure to some endangered species.  Slash-and-burn is a method, sometimes used by shifting cultivators to create short-term yields from marginal soils.  After clear-cutting and burning a residual sparse, sometimes sterile grassland savannah remains.  When practised repeatedly or without intervening fallow periods, the nutrient-deficient soils may be exhausted or eroded to an unproductive state.  Because trees grow slowly in rocky soils, regeneration time may be measured in centuries, but the toll of extinct species is permanent.  Protection of these dry forests would assist in preservation of these diverse ecosystems.

Care for the Earth

Let’s reflect on our “common home” —– the Earth and our relationship with Her.  Pope Francis opines: “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing  and its human roots concern and affect us all.”  So, let’s ask : What am I doing to make our home –the Earth — a paradise for everyone, everywhere ?
decayed_earth_009Pope Francis laments that “the earth is beginning to look like an immense pile of filth” due to many reasons : pollution, wastage, a throwaway culture, selfish exploitation of the earth’s resources and lack of concern for the poor, who are worst affected and least equipped to cope with ecological crises.
“It’s good for humanity and the world at large when we better recognise the ecological commitments which stem from our faith convictions.  The religions of Mother India can collaboratively inspire us to care for Mother Earth.  The adivasi-tribal religions celebrate mother nature and foster an all-embracing sense of the sacred in their myths, culture, festivals and lifestyles.
The Vedas look at all beings ——- living and non-living ——- as subsisting by the same spiritual power.  The whole universe becomes EKANEEDAM (one home) and one must transcend one’s AHAMKARA (ego) to enter into transcendental consciousness of the “Ground of all beings”.
The Quranic concepts of KHALIFA (trusteeship) and TAWHEED (the unity of all creatures) instruct Muslims to shoulder their vedasresponsibilities as guardians of Khuda’s creation, so as to bequeath a green earth for future generations.
Buddha preached an ethic of DHAMMA (universal harmony, embracing not only human beings but all creatures.  This engenders universal love with KARUNA (compassion), METTA (friendliness), MUDITA (gentleness) and UPEKHA (equanimity) towards all beings.
Ecology and economics have the same root, OIKOS, that in Greek means “home”.  To care for our earthly home, we need creative, committed and collaborative “homework” among entrepreneurs, economists, politicians and policy-makers worldwide.  If what Pope Francis calls “integral ecology” becomes a reality, then all of creation will joyously sing LAUDATO SI (Praise be with you)
———- Francis Gonsalves (professor of Theology) 

From skyscraper to plyscraper

plyscraper_

If the 20th century was the century of the Skyscraper, then the 21st century is shaping up as the century of the PLYSCRAPER —– a tower block made entirely from wood.
A PLYSCRAPER is a skyscraper made out of engineered-lumber such as cross-laminated-timber (CLT), which is composed of dried lumber which is stacked in a 90degree “L” shape, and fully glued over.  It makes for a strong, flexible green building.  By the end of 2015, an estimated 40-48% of new non-residential constructions, by value, will be green.  The Obama Administration, in co-operation with lumber industry groups, is currently offering a  $2million prize for the most innovative PLYSCRAPER design.  With green buildings on the rise and stimulating the economy, the timing of this contest should come as no surprise.

plyscraper in vogue


Despite the historical reputation of wood for great  city fires —— London in 1666, the Great Chicago fire of 1871 and San Francisco in 1960 ——- WOOD is making a comeback as “construction material” and how.  Vancouver-based architects MGA recently completed a 97ft wooden building.  Next year, in Vienna, construction will begin on a 275ft PLYSCRAPER, and Stockholm may build a 34-storey wooden apartment by 2023.  Others in the pipeline are from Canada to Australia to Europe.  Vancouver-based architect Michael Green, says the momentum is gaining as new engineered-woods allow for greater strength and heights in buildings.  Moreover, faster construction times and a softer environmental impact, could the building material of the past be the future of construction ? But, he said, news of taller wooden structures is sprouting up all the time.  “There seems to be a new announcement every 2 or 3 weeks.  We’ve got one in Vancouver for 18 storeys, and in Vienna there’s one for more than 20 storeys.  We’ve done research in high earthquake zones, that show 30 storeys is FEASIBLE.  We certainly think we can go up to 40 and higher.”


Plyscraper


Michael Green said that new developments in engineered-woods —— small wood components that are glued together to make large panels for a building —— are  a “game-changer” for construction.  Mass timber panels, in particular, cross-laminated-timber (CLT) are becoming established as a quicker, greener and, eventually, cheaper alternative to concrete and steel.  One great bonus of the material is the “speed of construction” —— panels can be made to measure, in the factory, with openings, windows and doors. While the main advantage of working in wood are manifold —— it is flexible, robust and easily worked, Green says that wood may be the only material to address the growing problems of urbanization.  Wood has not been looked as “urban material”, so we looked at how it could be the contributor to urban environments.  There are a whole host of advantages.  Steel and Concrete have huge “carbon footprints”.  Concrete accounts for about 6-8% of man’s greenhouse gas emissions, whereas Wood “sequesters” carbon dioxide and gives us a vehicle to create “carbon-neutral buildings.

The energy used to harvest Wood is much less than the enormous amount required to produce Concrete and Steel.  Green says, “There is no other building material that is grown by the Sun.  We’ve calculated that the North American forests grow enough wood for a 20-storey PLYSCRAPER every 8-10mins.  Ultimately, building in wood, creates an economic incentive to plant more forests.  The climate story is really happening at both ends of the argument ——– by using more wood we encourage countries, around the world, to plant more trees.  About 20% of man’s carbon footprint comes from “de-forestation” and this creates an important incentive for “re-forestation”.

plyscraper (1)


In terms of “carbon footprints”, a 20-storey PLYSCRAPER put against its counterpart in Concrete and Steel, is equivalent to taking 900 cars off the road for a year.  But the established nature of concrete and steel means that CLT will not replace urban building materials overnight.  Concerns over fire and inherent problems with its acoustic qualities (apartments need additional acoustic measures to keep noise from travelling) have meant that the construction establishment has been slow to come to the party.  In Vienna, for example, the Austrian Fire Services are working with architects to test their plans. —– “The main factor is that everyone wants to build higher and higher buildings  An 84-metre-high building, in Europe,  is not usual and there are a lot of necessities that have to be realized,” fire service spokesman Christian Wegner told The Guardian newspaper, “a few of us were upset because it was crazy to present an idea like this that has not been discussed with everyone yet.  They have to carry special tests on the correct combination of concrete and wood.  We also want to develop a more “fail-safe” sprinkler system.  I expect they will pass the tests, but if they develop the buildings, as they say they will, it will be a serious project.”

Green counters that CLT is as fire-resistant as other new-builds made by traditional means and likens its ability to burn to trying to set a redwood on fire with a lit match, with any charring creating an “insulation layer” that protects the wood underneath.  Even so, the  industry remains largely sceptical of a process that —- while having obvious advantages in terms of speed —- is still on par with steel and concrete constructions in terms of cost.  Green said, “It will become cheaper, but it’s too new to be significantly less expensive, and the difficulty lies in competing with a “well-honed” and “century-old” system of designing buildings and budgeting for concrete and steel.  The culture of building and the culture of developing buildings is very “conservative”, Green said, “The hardest part of my job, is not the engineering and the design or the innovation, it’s really about changing the public’s perception of what is possible.”
Ultimately, buildings of the future are likely to be a mixture of wooden components and concrete and steel, thus combining the “stability of concrete” with the “flexibility and speed of wood.”  Leading timber specialist at ARUP, Andrew Lawrence, said that, “Clients are missing a trick with wood.  Dollar-for-dollar as a pure construction material, wood can still struggle to be cheaper than concrete.  What you need to do, if you want an economic solution, is to think about all the aspects from the outset.  You will save on the program, because it’s all dry and is quick to erect and potentially, if you are making an office building, you can leave a lot of the wood “exposed” saving on the cost and time of installing finishes.  Moreover   , clients will gain a building that looks good too.  Studies show that people are happier inside wooden structures.”
PLYSCRAPERS could be the future of flat-pack-cities around the world.  In Christchurch —- The Merritt Building welcomed its 1st multi-storeyed timber structure this year, there are plans for Vancouver, and, the talk is China could follow.  Just as the world’s 1st Skyscraper, built by William Le Baron Jenney in Chicago in 1884 (called a spindly steel skeleton) solved the issue of the dense, stunted buildings in the 19th century, architects and engineers are seeking new ways of building faster and taller without having a drastic impact on the environment.  And, that has seen them revisit the most basic building material of them all : WOOD.
Super firm SOM —– the architects behind the One World Trade Centre and the Burj Khalifa —- are considering using wood for high-rise constructions.  Wooden Skyscrapers, or should we say PLYSCRAPERS  are “smoking hot.”  —COULD YOU, WOOD YOU ????????

Living root bridges

Living root bridge Meghalaya

Living Root Bridges are to be found in Cherrapunji, Laitkynsew and Nongriat in the present-day of Meghalaya State of North East India.

living root bridge Meghalaya


Root Bridges are made by an ingenious technique.  The tiny hair-thin hanging roots of a Banyan fig tree are intertwined with boughs and twigs and allowed to grow naturally.  After a few years, the intertwined roots and branches become strong enough for people to use it as a bridge across the stream.  The pliable tree roots are trained to grow through betel tree trunks which are placed across the gap, until the figs’ roots take root on the other side.  Sticks, stones and other inclusions are placed with the growing bridge.  This process can take up to 15yrs to complete.  There are specimens spanning over 100ft.  The useful lifespan, once complete, is thought to be 500-600yrs.  They are “naturally self-renewing” and “self-strengthening” as the component roots grow thicker.

living root bridge tree india Meghalaya 10


The local Khasi people do not know when or how the tradition of “living root bridges” started.  The earliest written record about them is by Lieutenant H. Yule in 1844.  The “living root bridge” at Laitkynsew is 53ft long.  Locally known as JINGKIENG DEINGJRI which means “bridge of the rubber tree”, this bridge is remarkable in that it is more than 100yrs old.  The chief advantage of a “living root bridge” is that it does not get washed away by the strong currents of the rains, but remains permanent and, in fact, grows stronger year by year.

Living root bridge


You can enjoy beautiful travel delights in Meghalaya as it is a unique destination.  Visually a kaleidoscope of energy and vibrancy, Meghalaya brings forth to you the “incredible root bridges”, which are not only “natural structures” but absolutely “lovely living structures”  These ‘root bridges” are one of the best examples of “living architecture” here.  They were initially constructed by people from the nearby villages around the lovely Cherrapunji region which is a “dream place”.

living-root-bridges


These “root bridges” lie at the foot of the Meghalaya Plateau.  The Khasi people have actually trained the branches and the roots of trees to result in “living bridges” across the rivers.  These bridges, today, seem to belong to God and are very close to Mother Nature.  Once these bridges become totally functional, their life span is 500-600yrs.  This period is much longer than that of a conventional bridge.

WAHTHYLLONG living root bridge


The surface of the bridge has bits of wood and rocks added to the mix, so that it is easier to cross.  There is also another reason why wood is added.  The wood decomposes and it gives nutrients to the roots of the tree growing around it.  The area gets about 15mts of rain each year.  So, a normal wooden bridge would completely rot.  But the “growing bridges” are alive and they are still growing, so they gain strength over a period of time.  The “hanging bridges”, made out of roots, is a very special feature of tours to Meghalaya.

living root bridge India


All Khasi villages are connected by a network of stone pathways known as the “King’s Way”.  Throughout this network 100s of “living root bridges” form the bridleways over the myriad of water channels that criss-cross the area.  The bridge at WAHTHYLLONG, is the most beautiful of all the bridges, in the East Khasi Hills and it was featured in Human Planet.

living room bridge_Meghalaya


In the dry season, women come to this place to wash their clothes and a trip here, at sunrise, is an “unforgettable experience”.  This is certainly a “magical place”, augmented by the beautiful nature of the Khasi people.  The view from above reveals the majesty of this masterpiece.  It is “organic engineering at its best”.  The development and upkeep of these bridges is a community affair.  Lesser known than their cousins (living root bridges), but equally fascinating are the Khasi’s “living root ladders”.

double living root bridge


Nongriat is a village containing the somewhat more famous “double-decker” root bridge and it has remained a relatively unaffected by the boom in indigenous travelling, mainly because there is still no road there..  So, getting to Nongriat is more complicated.  Look for the Sohra Sumo and take the first one available for Rp50.  (SOHRA is the Khasi name for Cherrapunji).  from there you need to hire a small taxi to get you to TYRNA, which is the village where the road ends.  It will cost you about Rp200 and it takes about one and a half hours.  From Tyrna, you have to start walking, then descend the 2,004 steps down to NONG THYMMAI and then on to Nongriat over 2 “suspension bridges” and a couple of “root bridges” (about one and a half hours).  The guest house in Nongriat is just on the other side of the “double-decker” bridge and costs about Rp400 a night.  In the rainy season, this is quite a walk and you may be advised to pay a local to carry your largest bag.  The going rate is Rp100 per trip.  Thes “living root bridges” are sustainable and environmentally-friendly architecture.

living root bridge_India


Art with a purpose

JasonDeCaires

If Jason DeCaires’ “Haunting Underwater Sculptures” don’t give a much-needed boost to tourism in Mexico, I don’t know what will.  His work has pretty much blown out of the water (pun intended) anything that is exhibiting at the Paris FIAC Art Fair.  The sculptor and scuba diver who grew up in Europe and Asia to an English father and Guyanese mother, has been causing quite a stir in the media with his newest, largest and most chilling installation yet :  403 life-size human sculptures, spanning 420 square metres of barren sea-bed.

The-Silent-Evolution-6


The location is Cancun, Mexico in the National Marine Park, where coral reefs are suffering from being over-fished and over-visited.  DeCaires’ “haunting” but “hypnotizing” underwater art will not only serve as a “visual treat” for divers, but, more importantly and beneficially as a diversion from the natural reefs in the park, which need a chance to “recover” and “rejuvenate”.  “THE SILENT REVOLUTION” will effectively double as an artificial reef, attracting fish and marine life to “colonize the sculptures.”  ———-“It’s incredibly interesting working underwater,” says DeCaires.  “The colours are different, the atmosphere and mood is “otherworldly.”  The piece takes on a very different tone underwater ———it has a lost feel to it and brings up all these questions that you wouldn’t have on land.”

Silent-Evolution-algae


Only about 10%-15% of the world’s sea-bed has a solid enough sub-stratum to allow reefs to form naturally.  DeCaires is not the first marine enthusiast to build an artificial reef, but he is certainly the first to incorporate the idea into an “artistic expression.”   Using a special cement-mix to encourage and attract coral growth, his various projects, around the world, are contributing to a progression which other artificial reefs have proven can successfully support entire marine ecosystems.
He says, “There are “physical” and “optical” considerations that must be taken into account.  Objects appear 25% larger under water, and, as a consequence, they also appear closer. ——- Here is a list of his older projects :

JasonDeCaires


(1) VICISSITUDES —– (depth 5 metres) Granada :—–” The large number of angles and perspectives fro which the sculptures can be viewed, increase dramatically the unique experience of encountering the works,” says DeCaires.  “There are life-size casts taken from a group of children of diverse backgrounds.  “Circular” in structure and located 5mts below the surface, the work both withstands strong currents and replicates  one of the primary geometric shapes, evoking ideas of “unity and continuum.”  You can see how drastically the sculptures evolve from unique art designs to functioning and well-adapted members of a marine society, from clearly-defined and sculpted faces to almost unrecognizable figures engulfed by the swallowing reef.

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underwater-sculptures-artist-jason-decaires-taylor-artificial-reefs-26 (1)


JasonDeCaires


(2)  MAN ON FIRE (depth 9mts) Isla Mujeres, Mexico —— This statue which weighs over 1 ton, is cast from a local Mexican fisherman called Joachim.  The cement statue has 75 holes drilled and has been filled with real cuttings of “fire coral” known to the scientific world as “millepora alcicorni”.  This particular coral is a very fast-growing marine organism.  DeCaires has named this sculpture MAN ON FIRE, because of the yellow, amber and brown colours of the coral, which when touched, leaves the curious with a ” painful stinging sensation.”  The artist anticipates that, with time, his MAN ON FIRE will indeed appear to be on fire underwater.  Ever the environmentalist, DeCaires sourced the “fire coral” from fragments damaged by human intervention or by violent storms.  DeCaires has also artificially grown some of the corals.

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(3)  THE ARCHIVES OF LOST DREAMS (depth 9mts) Isla Mujeres, Mexico : —- DeCaires placed the ARCHIVES OF LOST DREAMS in an area of the Mexican National Marine Park, specifically where marine life has been damaged by passing hurricanes and tropical storms.  The sculpture is intended to lure away the park’s 750,000 yearly visitors from other sections of the surrounding pristine reef allowing space to recover and develop naturally.  The underwater scene depicts a man and his dog, who guard a collection of messages in bottles.  The 100s of messages, being preserved in bottles, are, in fact, real messages from various communities of different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds.  DeCaires invited these communities to provide the messages which he hopes will chronicle present-day principles, beliefs and aspirations for future generations to discover.

underwater-sculptures-artist-jason-decaires-taylor-artificial-reefs-17


(4) THE LOST CORRESPONDENT  (depth 8mts) Granada : —– DeCaires’ works have an incredibly “ghostly feel” to them reminding one of remains from sunken ships or the ash-covered bodies from the Roman city of Pompeii following the catastrophic volcanic eruption.  The desk is covered with a collection  of newspaper cuttings that date back to the 1970s, detailing Granada’s alignment with Cuba in the period immediately prior to the Revolution.

Small tooth sawfish

Smalltooth sawfish

The SMALLTOOTH SAWFISH gets its name from the Greek word PRISTIS, meaning “saw” and “small teeth that line the edges of its saw”, which are not as large as those of other members of the sawfish family.
The sawfish has a flattened shark-shaped body, brown to bluish-grey in colour, with a white underside, and wing-shaped pectoral fins.  The “saw” is a quarter of the length of the body, and has between 25-32 pairs of small, sharp teeth which are longer and less broad towards the end of the “saw”.  The mouth is on the underside and contains 10-12 rows of teeth in both jaws.  The upper-side of the sawfish is covered in rough tooth-like scales and the under-side is coated in smooth tooth-like scales.

Smalltooth sawfish


For many years, rarity of seeing a sawfish in the wild prevented scientists from collecting conclusive evidence about the use of their distinctive “rostrum”.  This led them to falsely assume that the sawfish, like many other marine vertebrates with a “rostrum”, follow the rule that the appendage is used to either sense prey or capture prey, but never both.  There are no other highly studied marine animals, with similar “rostral” characteristics, that have shown that the “rostrum” is used for both these feeding techniques.  Recent studies have demonstrated, however, that the sawfish utilise their “rostrum” to both sense and manipulate prey.

small tooth sawfish


A sawfish’s “saw” is made up of 1000s of “sensory organs”, that allow them to detect and monitor the movements of other organisms, by measuring the “electric fields” they emit.  The “sensory organs” also called “ampullary pores” are packed most densely on the dorsal side of its “rostrum”.  This allows the fish to create an image of the “three-dimensional” area above it, even in waters of low-visibility.  This provides support for the “bottom-dwelling” behaviour of sawfish, utilising the “saw” as an “extended sensing device”.  Sawfish are able to “view” their entire surroundings by maintaining a position low to the sea floor.

Smalltooth sawfish


The sawfish uncovers sand-dwelling crustaceans and mollusc, two common prey types, by using their unique anatomical structure as a tool for digging and grubbing about in sand or mud.  The sawfish churns up the sea bottom with their exaggerated “rostrum” to uncover these hidden food sources.  Small-tooth sawfish have been observed to approach large shoals of fish while striking their “saw” rapidly from side to side.  Due to the high density of small fish in a shoal, there is a high probability that the sawfish will hit, stab, stun or kill several prey during one shoal attack. The sawfish has also been observed to attack larger prey by using their weapon to dislodge large pieces of meat from victims.  They then use their “serrated” saw teeth to tear through flesh.  The small-tooth sawfish is predated on by sharks, but only when it is young and undersized.

smalltooth Sawfish underwater


Little is known about the life cycle of the sawfish, but it is thought to breed year round in areas of constant climate, but elsewhere, only in the summer  Fertilisation is internal an the “pups” develop inside the female, who gives birth a year later to about 15-20 “pups”.  The “saws” of the new-born are “sheathed” & “malleable” at birth for protection.  The “pups” are around 60cm long at birth.  The historical distribution of this species is worldwide, although recent declines in number mean that the sawfish is now absent from many sites.  In American waters, the small-tooth sawfish used to be prevalent in coastal areas from New York, around the Floridian Peninsula as far as Texas.  The small-tooth sawfish can exist both in salt water and freshwater, tending to prefer fairly shallow water with muddy or sandy bottoms such as rivers, streams, lakes, creeks, bays, lagoons and estuaries.  Although the sawfish prefers depths of no more than 120m, it will cross deep oceans to reach new areas of coastline.

Smalltooth-Sawfish_130327_1


The Small-tooth sawfish is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List and as Endangered under the United States National Marine Fisheries Service.  The small-tooth sawfish has been over-fished both intentionally and as catch.  Accidently caught, sawfish are rarely returned to the water alive as they are difficult to entangle from nets are dangerous to fishermen.  They are caught for sport, for food and for their oil, which is used to make soap, medicine and for polishing leather, as well as for their “saws” which are removed and sold as “curios”.  Habitat modification is also contributing to the decline of this species, which is slow to recover from ‘population crashes” due to “slow maturation” and ” a long reproductive cycle”.

smalltooth sawfish diagram


Florida has established 3 wildlife refuges to protect the habitat of the small-tooth sawfish, in the hope that the numbers might increase sufficiently for re-colonisation of other areas.  It has been protected from harvesting, in Florida, since 1992 and over the rest of American waters since 2003.  Research into small-tooth sawfish life history and population distribution, as well as education and awareness initiatives may help prevent further decline of the species, but these efforts must be made worldwide to ensure the protection of this “amazing fish”.