Micronesia: Day 4

6/26/13

Started 4:49 P.M. on 6/28/13.

Again, I’m trying to play catchup. Thankfully, this post shouldn’t take too long. Days 5 and 6… well… let’s just say I’ve got my hands full.

Wednesday was an interesting day. After a much-needed sleep after our trek on Tuesday, we woke up and analyzed our data. We actually got some more data on a similar excursion today, so I’ll post all the data and my conclusions when the mangrove unit is completed. But first, let’s take a look at some of the videos I was able to record today from our boat/mangrove trip.

We went to the Soundau Estuary to do our data collection. The boat ride was around an hour. A man named Pelsen who worked at the Office of Fisheries on Pohnpei was the main navigator for the boat. I ened up talking to him often throught the trip – he’s a good guy. He even gave me some betelnut! I didn’t particularly like it though.

The Soundau Estuary was spectacular. I wasn’t expecting it to be so closed in… I was expecting a much larger and more open estuary. It was one of the coolest, most beautiful yet thrilling places to travel through.

___________________________________________

In class, we talked about mangrove-human interaction and how humans benefit from and are a threat to mangroves. So, what are some ways in which mangroves benefit humans?

First off, they make fantastic climbing material. You have to use all four of your extremities to keep from falling in the mud. The Rhyzophera trees with the prop roots are probably the best for climbing. The worst? Probably the Sonneratia. However, I know many a daredevil who may disagree.

Mangroves are a great source of wood. This wood is primarily used for making handcrafts or for burning. The wood from the Xylocarpus is extremely good for carving beautiful crafts, and as such, we have seen several Xylocarpus stumps in the mangroves. We haven’t seen any clear cuts, though, and this is a very good thing, as Julian would probably have a seizure if he saw one.

The biological habitat provided by the mangroves is very diverse. “You’re not in a golf course anymore.” We’ve seen small crabs and fish, and apparently there is a larger crab known as the logically known as the “mangrove crab” that I have not seen. The soul is very fertile because of all of the falling leaves, and since the mangroves are so protective, they make extremely good fish spawning habitat.

I always love a good storm, but I’m not a fan of soil erosion. The good thing is that mangroves do an excellent job of protecting the coast from soil erosion. Imagine you are some mean-natured wave that’s trying to cause harm to the local topography, and then you run into a mangrove swamp that extends into the interior of the island as far as the eye (if waves were organisms who could envision the world) can see. It’s not too different from trying to excavate through miles of mangrove muck yourself. You can try, but at some point, you will fail. Guaranteed.

Storms may erode the coast, but wave action also deposits sand and other sediments on the coast to create beaches. Each beach has an input an output of sediment, and if the input exceeds the output as it usually does in relatively calm times, the beach will grow. Mangroves make this growth of coast much easier. Take it from me; it’s not easy to get in the mangroves, but it’s nearly impossible to get out.

Mangroves inhabit a lot of coastal areas and grow quickly, so they are great sequesters of carbon. I don’t know the biology and climatology of carbon sequestration by photosynthetic organisms and mangroves in particular, but I’m sure that these mangroves would help reduce the impact of global warming by taking in carbon dioxide. As to how much, I have no idea. Global warming isn’t going to happen. It’s happening, whether you like it or not. The signal may be weak now, but it will increase exponentially as time goes on. By 2100, our planet will look completely different. Alright, rant over.

There are many other benefits of mangroves, many of them subjective in nature. But one benefit that I experienced today (6/28) is the amazing ability of the Rhysophera stylus to defog a snorkel mask and keep it defogged. I’ve never tried anything to defog my snorkel mask other than pull it off my face, let it fill with water, and then force the water out of it by putting it back on my face and blowing my nose. Today, I rubbed the stylosa against my mask, not expecting to see any improvement. Instead, the difference was mind-blowing… my mask did not fog up once. It was a good experience.

Alright. Now onto some threats. We actually broke these threats up into two categories: one for the threats that Pohnpeians are imposing on their mangroves, and the other for global threats to mangroves.

Pohnpeians pose a significant threat to mangroves. As previously discussed, they chop them down for wood, particularly species of the Xylocarpus genus. Many times, this is clearing for farmland to grow Sakau, which is a depressant drink similar to alcohol that is drank around here and apparently tastes utterly awful. When mangroves are logged, and especially if they are clear-cut, the land can hold significantly less water and significantly more runoff will result. This runoff has negative effects for the citizens of Pohnpei as well. For example, the tap water is contaminated with E. Coli from pigs and humans, and is unsafe to drink unless boiled.

The destruction of coral habitat leaves the mangroves more exposed to storms, and the outward extension from the island of mangrove growth could retreat due to increased erosion. Oil spills can be disastrous… I don’t think any have occurred within the barrier reef surrounding Pohnpei, but if a sizable spill occurred, it would have the potential to destroy the complete mangrove ecosystem. Julian was talking about an oil spill in a mangrove swamp somewhere in Oceania that completely wiped out the mangrove population. Thankfully, the mangroves actually recovered pretty quickly.

Destroying mangrove habitat for aquaculture also poses a threat. I don’t know of any cases where this has occurred in Pohnpei, but Julian told us that massive amounts of mangrove swamps are being cleared in Vietnam for this very purpose.

Globally, mangroves have to adapt to changes to the water in which they currently grow in. Due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, water temperature will rise and the ocean will become more acidic. The sea-surface height of the ocean will also increase by as much as 70 cm by the turn of the century. And while 70 cm may not sound like a lot, keep in mind that these mangrove swamps are right at sea level. A change in sea-surface height would definitely affect their distribution.

Under global warming, the general consensus is that storms will become more intense. As a self-proclaimed atmospheric apprentice, I have a problem with this overreaching statement. What kind of storm are they talking about? A thunderstorm? A snowstorm? Or perhaps…

This is a logo of an organization is protected by copyright. Basically, I’m committing a felony.

The most often storms cited as being more intense are hurricanes. The general consensus is that global warming will not cause an increase in frequency, but it could make the major hurricanes that form even more major. This would make sense because hurricanes derive their energy from warm water, and the water in the oceans is expected to warm under global warming. However… it is important to realize that one climatic change (trapping more heat in the Earth’s atmosphere) leads to many other changes… not just the heat of the oceans rising. And if that wasn’t enough, the increase in heat in the oceans will cause a whole bunch of other changes. There are so many changes at play that it is hard, and in my opinion, misleading, for the media to promote these speculations as facts. I’ve seen many news articles that say scientists believe hurricanes will become stronger because of increased SSTs with global warming. At the surface, that is true, but there are many scientists who hold dissenting opinions. And yes, those who hold dissenting opinions do believe global warming is occurring. There is negligible debate in the scientific community as to whether global warming will or will not occur.

In any event, stronger storms = more erosion = mangrove hardship. This could be a big factor in the upcoming century.

With changing water temperatures, the range of mangroves will likely change. On average, the mangrove range is expected to advance poleward, but again, there are so many feedbacks and local factors at work that generalization without representation is outrageous.

El Nino and La Nina events have strongly affected Pohnpei and other Micronesian islands. During El Nino events, decreased rainfall can result as the trade winds weaken and the rain that would typically fall over Micronesia is transported eastward toward Peru. We don’t know how these events will change in the future, but with so many changes in ocean and atmospheric physiology and chemistry, there will be some changes.

In addition to discussing mangroves, we saw a presentation hosted by the Island Food Community of Pohnpei. The main mission of this group is to support locally-grown foods on Pohnpei.

I loved the presentation. There was one Micronesian woman leading it, a younger Australian woman helping out, and another younger woman about the same age as the Australian. She started out with a pretty groovy statistic: there are 60 different varieties of bananas on Pohnpei. I go bananas for bananas, so I’ve been in good hands this first week.

The organization stands behind 5 main ideas that are known as “CHEEF.”

Culture
Health
Environment
Economics
Food Safety

 Island Foods is committed to preserving the history and culture of food on Pohnpei. I haven’t heard of any feasts of Spam for special ceremonies. Traditional, local food doesn’t have to always be served in a traditional way, but with globalization comes the threat of the eradication of individual, local cultures.

Half of the children the island have vitamin A deficiencies because they have a diet that now consists of processed foods such as white rice and top ramen. One third of adults have diabetes. This is not only due to a change in local diet but a decrease in physical activity. Local food contains a bunch of nutrients that have allowed Pohnpeians to survive here for centuries, and a diet of pure processed food cannot sustain good health. For more information, look up Dr. Lois Englberger. The Micronesia woman at the presentation just mentioned her name, but apparently she has done quite a bit of research pertaining to Micronesian foods.

Growing local foods in a sustainable way is good for the environment. Additionally, the resources and GHGs emitted by ships entering Pohnpei to deliver food is enormous. The practice of clear-cutting for takau is detrimental to the environment because it is done in an unsustainable way. Sakau is not a food… it is a cash crop, and the Micronesian woman at the presentation both disliked its taste and effects and criticized about how it has changed from a crop that people used for special ceremonies to something people will just sell on the street at night for a few bucks and drink for recreational purposes.

The economy is obvious… the Micronesian economy is very depressed, and 80 percent of their income comes from the United States. We are staying in perhaps what is the richest city on the island, and it still looks dilapidated. If all the money spent is just going to countries other than Micronesia, the economy will struggle. However, if the money is kept circulating through the local Micronesian economy, economic development will result.

Food security is not as much of a problem as it used to be… if Micronesia has a food crisis, they can just get some food from somewhere else. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily true for all places…. there are many, many children around the world who experience chronic malnutrition due to a lack of food. If the Pohnpeians have enough food to sustain themselves, it gives them a feeling of comfort and ease. And this feeling is not at all unwarranted… people should take peace in knowing that their country is prepared for a drought or famine.

Goodness, I’m tired. It was another long field day today. I’m going to catch up on these blogs, I promise.

Ended 6/28/13 9:32 P.M.

Charlie

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One thought on “Micronesia: Day 4

  1. For additional information on preserving and sustaining local food traditions, google Jerry Konanui, an expert on the taro plant and its many uses. Charlie's parents met Jerry in Hawaii in May. He is an amazing person, and it was an honor to learn about how he is using traditional foods, including taro, to strengthen and sustain island culture. He passed on good advice for Charlie about the proper way to drink sakau! But we are glad Charlie is avoiding it–who needs E coli!

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