Appreciating One of Nature’s Answers to Global Warming!
Hunched over the low tide flat of sand on the Suva foreshore, my two-year-old sister Eunice worked very hard to plant the heap of 20 red mangrove propagules she collected a couple of metres away on the shore. Eunice has been at this small mangrove sanctuary more times than I was when I was her age. This small mangrove sanctuary is also a popular spot for every other urban and visiting mangrove champion in the larger Suva area.
Like soldiers on a mission, my sisters and I find it satisfying and therapeutic when we are collecting the propagules for replanting along the Suva foreshore at low tide. These are also priceless moments for us. Hundreds of red and white mangrove propagules litter the Suva foreshore after a high tide and we hope to keep planting in the spaces left by the weaker propagules that could not survive the tide and other elements.
The annual World Mangrove Day is celebrated on July 26 and for this year’s commemoration, my sisters and I have started collecting red mangrove propagules for a mangrove nursery that we have been developing and praying over for quite some time now. And to learn about mangroves and its different species from experts from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Oceania, World Wildlife Fund (Suva office), Conservation International Fiji and other conservationists and mangrove defenders. Earlier in the year and before COVID-19, we were given the green light and the blessings to plant mangroves in the Rewa province by the Na Gone Marama Bale na Roko Tui Dreketi, Honourable Ro Teimumu Kepa. This is an opportunity that I hope to keep my side of the bargain up and plant as many mangroves as I possibly can along the Rewa delta. And I do hope that I can also extend mangrove planting in my province of Tailevu simultaneously.
No Balloon December
We were introduced to mangrove planting back in 2018 when I launched the “No Balloon December” activity – a spin off from my “Ban the Release of Balloons” campaign. My activism started off with a campaign raising awareness about the dangers of balloons for wildlife and marine animals. Balloon releasing and balloon decorations are a familiar sight at festivals, weddings, memorials and at every media-village or community event – be it the opening of a village hall, bridge, school or a roadside market stall. Balloons are seen as fun and mistaken as harmless decorations – but they do become deadly litter when they are released into the air or left at event sites. And, balloons are too often overlooked.
To help bring attention to the environmental and ocean dangers of balloons, I launched a “No Balloon December” campaign in December 2018 to raise awareness about its dangers as well as to get support as I explored legal advice on how to push for a legislation to prohibit the release of balloons in Fiji, after studying the Fiji Litter Act 2008. Balloon litter are among the most harmful to sea birds, turtles and marine mammals because they resemble jelly fish and plankton that are top on the food chain.
Our friends at the Alliance for Future Generations Fiji helped us organise our first mangrove planting activity with a couple of friends and relatives. We planted 2000 mangrove propagules and ended the launch event with a beach clean-up. The main objective behind the mangrove planting event was to draw attention to environmentally friendlier alternatives to balloons. We all love a good party theme and balloons have an instant cheery effect but we can do a lot more good to our environment and oceans if we celebrate with balloon-free alternatives that are kinder to the environment.
Mangrove planting and the ‘new normal’
Mangrove planting is a low cost initiative for us. While sheltering at home during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and school closure, we mapped out our action plans for the rest of the year and anticipated the “new normal”. Given the global projection on mangroves and the current health pandemic, we explored ways of how we could advocate on climate change issues and maintain social distancing and other COVID-19 related restrictions.
Enough can’t be said about the importance of mangrove forests. Not only do they serve as a critical habitat for a wide variety of land and marine life – but they also play a significant role in nutrient cycling and act as nurseries for the young of the many species of fish, birds and crustaceans which inhabit tropical coastlines.
From our initial 2000 mangrove propagules planted in 2018, we organised a couple of mangrove planting events and collaborated with many other eco champions and planted more propagules. We’ve planted more than 25,000 mangrove propagules in three different sites along the Suva foreshore and we hope to continue planting outside the Suva foreshore areas. This is a small number of mangrove propagules planted by us and our supporters and friends compared to the ongoing mangrove restoration programmes and planting that have been done in other parts of Fiji with conservation organisations and support from government. It is a sense of achievement when we see the propagules leafing, gnarled roots taking form and barnacles, oysters, crabs and other marine organisms thriving on the mangrove plants. These organisms make a plentiful feast for juvenile fish, birds and wildlife both above and below the water’s surface.
When I came back from New York last September, I found refuge at the foreshore planting red mangrove propagules to offset my carbon footprints – something I read from one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommendations. I also picked up a few pointers from the Mikoko Pamoja mangrove conservation and restoration project in Gazi Bay in Kenya.
We are also looking forward to going back to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) when borders are open again for leisure travel after COVID-19 and I am more interested in visiting Abu Dhabi’s newest hotspot, the Jubail Mangrove Park between Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island and Saadiyat Island. In our last visit to the UAE, the mangrove park boardwalks were still under construction. Travel plans are already in the pipeline with our ma’pigas (grandparents) in the UAE.
For me, whether it is planting native trees, fruit trees or mangrove trees, we must continue to plant as many trees as we can. My sisters and I are ambitious too with our mangrove planting initiative. We know that it can be done; we just need volunteers to join the mangrove planting evangelism.