IN­DONE­SIA’S CENOTES

Asian Diver (English) - - Editor’s Note -

Text & Im­ages by Im­ran Ah­mad Bin Rayat Ah­mad

Dis­cover Su­lawesi’s best-kept secret – mag­i­cal fresh­wa­ter div­ing that might have you think­ing you just slipped into an­other di­men­sion

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 har­bour. Now they trav­elled 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, yet 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 nearly 30-me­tres 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 50 times more car­bon in their soil per square me­tre 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, half-a-me­tre to me­tre-long shoots of life push­ing up out of the wa­ter:

2,000 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.

In the 1980s In­done­sia had over 42 mil­lion acres of man­groves, an area the size of Tu­nisia. By the 1990s, half of them had been ripped out for fire­wood, tim­ber or to cre­ate fish, lob­ster and shrimp farms. But the In­done­sian govern­ment and pub­lic opin­ion have started to shift to sup­port restor­ing man­grove “green belts”.

Madgid Blongkot started a man­grove plan­ta­tion on a beach in North Su­lawesi. He em­ploys five peo­ple

BE­LOW The man­grove seedlings viewed from above at low tide

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