Asian Diver (English) - - Man & Sea - Text & im­ages by Liz Cun­ning­ham (ex­cept where noted)

IMAG­INE FOR A MO­MENT a garbagestrewn har­bour bereft of fish, toxic chem­i­cals leach­ing from the de­bris into the wa­ter. How many times have you seen this in a news ar­ti­cle? Last Au­gust I vis­ited Ba­howo, a small vil­lage in North Su­lawesi, where that wasn’t the case and it wasn’t a stroke of luck. It was a stroke of in­ten­tion.

It was dusk and we pad­dled an Aus­trone­sian out­rig­ger ca­noe through shal­low wa­ter. Two of the vil­lagers, Ny­omen and Alexan­der, were tak­ing me to see some man­groves.

“We knew man­groves are nurs­eries for ju­ve­nile fish and pro­tect the coast­line from storms,” Ny­omen told me. “If we want more fish to re­turn to this coast­line, we need the man­groves.” The vil­lagers were very happy when three years ago uni­ver­sity stu­dents came and planted seedlings. Years be­fore many of the man­groves had been cleared to build a lob­ster farm that failed, leav­ing the coast­line dam­aged.

Once we got out of the har­bour, 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, 5 and 10 me­tres tall. The stubby tree trunks grew from large, arc-shaped roots half­sub­merged 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.

Vil­lagers in North Su­lawesi have changed their fates by plant­ing a for­est of man­groves, demon­strat­ing that we do in­deed have the ca­pac­ity to turn things around on this planet be­fore it’s too late

ABOVE The man­grove seedlings are thriv­ing un­der the care­ful pro­tec­tion of the lo­cal com­mu­nity ABOVE RIGHT Pop­u­la­tions of en­demic species, like this black-billed king­fisher, are also be­fit­ting from the re­turn of the man­groves

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