Islands and Beaches
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Cantão State Park includes 24 sandy islands on the Araguaia river, as well as a large number of river sand beaches on bends of the channels that weave through the interior of the park. The sand itself is the primary habitat for a number of species. Black Skimmers, Yellow-billed Terns, yellow-spotted river turtles, the enormous Amazon river turtle, and other species nest directly on the sand in great numbers. Their eggs attract nest predators like the Southern Caracara, the tayra, and even the jaguar, which also takes adult turtles at night when they climb up onto the beach to nest.

Sandy beaches and mud banks are also the preferred feeding habitat for wading birds like the Roseate Spoonbill, the Whispering Ibis, and several species of ducks. Among the more remarkable inhabitants of river islands and large beaches is the Northern Screamer, which can be seen in the park throughout the year.

The vegetation growing on this sandy, nutrient-poor environment goes through several successional stages, starting with annual grasses and herbs, which are heavily grazed by mammals and ducks in the dry season and by fish when submerged in the wet season. The next stage is dominated by Sapium and Psidium bushes, both of which fruit during the annual floods, and have their seeds dispersed by fish, especially pacús. As the years pass, the ever-thickening mass of roots begins to accumulate detritus brought by the floods, and the formerly barren sands turn into soils capable of supporting a greater variety of plant species. Finally, a canopy of Cecropia trees forms above the bushes. The cecropias fruit year-round, and the dense stands that form in attract a great many frugivores which bring seeds from the surrounding forest. Over the decades, these seeds sprout and grow, overwhelming the cecropias, shading and stifling the undergrowth, and turning into an igapó flooded forest environment. However, further downstream, new sediments are being deposited, pioneer plants are sprouting on the sand, and all the beach and island successional stages are starting anew.