Ap­pre­ci­at­ing One of Na­ture’s An­swers to Global Warm­ing!

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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.

An­nMary Raduva

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