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Reforesting Indonesia with Mangroves - the World's Most Carbon-Absorbent Ecosystem

Over the past 60 years approximately 40% of the world's mangrove forests have been cut down. They now only account for about 1% of Earth's forest, but have a massively outsized environmentally impact.

The mangroves' incredible root system provides an essential spawning ground and nursery to young fish marine life, critical to ocean health; but perhaps even more importantly the whole mangrove ecosystem is the most carbon-absorbent natural system on the planet.

Fish swim in a mangrove root nursery

This is what our One Brush = One Tree mission is all about. Planting new trees to help fight climate change, environmental degradation, and poverty.

Indonesia's deforestation and environmental problems

When we think of Indonesia, we tend to think of a tropical paradise: coconuts on white sandy beaches, lush forests, clear blue ocean, perfect surf waves, and world class diving. While this can still be true - Indonesia is one of my favourite places in the world, with some of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen - there's a darker side to the country too.

Exploring Pulau Padar island in Komodo National Park in the Flores region of Indonesia

As one of the most densely populated countries on Earth, Indonesia has felt more than its fair share of environmental pressure and degradation, which has not been helped by an explosive and uncontrolled boom in tourism since the 60's and 70's. 

As recently as 1900 84% of Indonesia was covered in dense forest, totalling around 170 million hectares. Today almost half of that has been cut down, largely fuelled by logging for timber, to clear land for cultivation and palm oil plantations, and to make room for tourist resorts.

Deforestation in Indonesia to make room for palm oil plantations

The biggest driver behind mangrove deforestation is its use as 'poor man's timber'. As a hard and salty wood it's a durable building material, used for construction by local villagers, who are often subsistence farmers and fisherman - ie they grow and fish to eat, not to trade, with little or no actual income.

In a country with high unemployment and even higher 'informal employment', it's estimated that around 40 million rural Indonesians rely on the environment for their subsistence needs.

However as the rate of mangrove deforestation increases, it directly impacts that subsistence lifestyle - as well as global climate health. Unsustainable mangrove clearing releases CO2, reduces future carbon absorption, and destroys the habitat and nursery grounds crabs and young fish need to live and grow in safety. Which means a smaller population, and less of them for locals to catch and eat.

Reforesting Indonesia with mangroves

In September 2017 our partners at Eden Reforestation Projects began a new reforestation project at Biwak Island, off the northern coast of West Papua and the extreme eastern edge of Indonesia.

In February 1996 an 8.2 magnitude earthquake nearby triggered a tsunami which struck Biwak with brutal force, killing at least 160 people, with 432 more injured and 5090 left homeless. The coastlines and mangroves were also devastated - destroying more livelihoods, and leaving coastal areas open and with even less of a protective buffer in the event of future tsunamis.

Watch the reforestation story and learn why mangroves make such a positive environmental impact

Social impacts of reforestation in Indonesia

A small group of local teachers on the island had already been taking reforestation into their own hands, and planting mangroves in their spare time since 2008, but with little help or funding. In fact by the time Eden began work, some of them hadn't even be paid their teaching salaries for 9 months!

Our 'One Brush = One Tree' reforestation mission is not just to regenerate healthy forests, but also to help lift local people and communities out of poverty by 'employing to plant'. The effects are already being felt in Biwak.

One particularly touching story is that of David Sawek, one of the original teacher-planters, and his wife. In December 2017 David was frantically worried in the local medical clinic as his wife struggled through the complicated birth of their second child. 

During the night the midwife informed David that his wife would need an emergency C-Section - so David called a rental car to drive them to the main city hospital. It took all of his savings to pay the bill, but thankfully the operation went well and mother and child lived.

Despite using all his savings, David said that he was very lucky to even have been able to save in the first place - and that if it were not for his employment with Eden, his job as a teacher would not have provided enough money to save for emergencies.

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