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