SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 11, April 2016 - Page 68

Once we got out of the harbor Alexander started a small diesel engine. We motored along the coast with a soft chortle. To the left a large volcanic island jutted out of the sea.

After a few minutes, Alexander pointed the canoe towards shore and stopped the engine. Silence. We glided into a small water forest. Birdsong from the lush jungle filled the air. There were hundreds of large mangroves, twenty and thirty feet tall. The stubby tree trunks grew from large, arc-shaped roots half-submerged in water. The labyrinthine patterns of the roots cast circular shadows on the water.

I slipped over the side of the boat into waist-deep water and several inches of sticky mud. The silky shade was a welcome relief at the end of a hot day. One of the soles on my shoes had cracked slightly. When I took my first steps in the mud, the suction was so strong that the sole of the shoe came off in the mud.

Oh, well. Too beautiful to worry about the shoe. The last bit of light flickered through the deep-green mangrove leaves. The short rattling call of a kingfisher sounded nearby.

Water forests like these – the meeting place of forest and sea encapsulate so much of life’s essence. Start with water, add photosynthetic organisms, now you have oxygen and carbohydrates – the origins of all the life around us.

For the villagers replanting the mangroves was no ornamental exercise. One of the fisherman, Arnold, had explained to me that when he was a child there were plenty of fish in the harbor. Now they traveled for over seven hours by boat and sat on a platform for days in the open ocean, in the hopes of getting a good catch. Overfishing in Bahowo isn’t something you read about. It’s the equivalent of going to the grocery store and the shelves are empty.

I sloshed further into the mangroves. When mangroves sprout, the first shoot is like an upright arrow, a stalk pushing up out of the mud. That shoot will sprout leaves. A root system grows beneath in the mud. In Asia a mangrove tree can grow to be ninety feet tall.

The quiet presence of these trees belies the fact that they are a potent counter to the global environmental behemoth – climate change. Mangroves store fifty times more carbon in their soil per square meter than the same amount of Amazon rainforest. They are part of what’s called “blue carbon” – carbon stored in coastal and marine ecosystems. Along with mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass sequester enormous quantities of carbon dioxide.

I turned around and looked out towards the ocean through the canopy of mangroves. The sunset had turned a brilliant orange. Alexander and Nyomen sat motionless in the boat exchanging hushed words.

So here’s where they planted the seedlings, I thought.

The seedlings were all around me, two and three foot-long shoots of life pushing up out of the water: two thousand of them.

Beauty takes all kinds of forms. When you’re surrounded by several types of beauty and they converge all at once, that beauty takes on a unique power. The myriad of dark, shiny seedlings, the calm sea air and the radiant hues of dusk converged into one thing: the beauty of the individual acts that put these seedlings in the ground.

Our modern world exists in the shadow of monumental issues, climate change, mass extinction, increased violent conflict. But the solutions? As much as they are broad-ranging, they are also specific, close to home. Acts with intention. People roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Two hundred students had come from Samratulangi University to plant the seedlings. The boys slept in a large marquee tent erected by the army. The villagers invited the girls to sleep as guests in their homes. They worked in the thick mud in scorching heat, planting the 2,000 seedlings one-by-one.