It has been a tough year for all of us, all the more so when our efforts involve a lot of on-the-ground restoration work, which has been constrained by the pandemic. With this in mind, I decided to write a piece on how youth working in landscape restoration find this a challenging time.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview two of my colleagues working on peatlands and oceans. Both amazing women are working in their own landscapes and communities as Restoration Stewards for the Global Landscapes Forum.
It’s always interesting to hear how this pandemic has led youth to find innovative ways of working in order to create more environmental awareness and to share it with the communities with which we engage.
Camille: First of all, let’s introduce ourselves. I am Camille Rivera from the Philippines. I have a Master of Science degree in marine biodiversity and conservation from Ghent University in Belgium and decided to go back to the Philippines to protect the marine resources we have left. I’m a wetland restoration steward specifically working on the restoration of mangroves. I am here to interview you about your restoration work and to find out how both of you are doing, months after our appointment as restoration stewards!
Time flies and I want to discuss your work, your experiences and your positive messages so we can share this with youth worldwide.
Sumarni: My name is Sumarni Laman from Central Kalimantan in Indonesia. I am a restoration steward for peatland ecosystems.
Grace: My name is Grace Easteria and I am an oceans restoration steward from Indonesia. I am currently pursuing my master’s degree in coastal and marine resources at IPB University in Bogor and am also a volunteer with CarbonEthics to conduct coral restoration work on Padangbai’s reef in Eastern Bali. Once home to an impressive fringing reef ecosystem, Padangbai’s waters are now mainly dominated by dead pieces of coral, otherwise known as rubble. In collaboration with Livingseas Asia and Baruna Scientific Diving Club, CarbonEthics embarked upon a joint mission to plant over 1,000 baby corals to rehabilitate Padangbai’s damaged coral reef ecosystem.
This project was also carried out in collaboration with Carbon EcoTrip’s #TravelCooler campaign. By booking a climate-positive trip with Carbon EcoTrip, divers from outside the CarbonEthics Foundation were able to participate in our coral planting activities and to gain a deeper understanding of the climate crisis, while learning how to travel smarter and with more awareness through nature-driven experiences.
Livingseas and CarbonEthics will continue to monitor the corals planted in order to ensure not just the corals’ survival, but that of Padangbai’s coral reef ecosystem as a whole.
Camille: The pandemic has changed our routines, especially when it comes to on-the-ground environmental work. Could you please share any positive outcomes and/or realizations that have emerged during this time?
Sumarni: We had to change many of our classes or workshops about peatland so they could take place as an online class. We also needed to limit the number of young people whom we engage for field work. Fortunately, the online class can reach more people who wish to learn about peatlands. And the limited number of people who join us on the ground have more opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding of the peat ecosystem, local trees, Indigenous Dayak knowledge and peatland restoration.
Grace: The pandemic has certainly proved to be a challenge in realizing our conservation agenda, whether it’s the travel restrictions or the economic impact on the locals. However, despite the drastic increase in Covid-19 cases in Indonesia, we were still able to conduct our programs by working together with a local dive operator in Padangbai. The limited mobility we have endured as a result of the pandemic has galvanized us in our belief that collaboration is critical in finding solutions to our limited capacity. Although we’ve had to postpone our programs, we were still able to accomplish what we intended to achieve.
Camille: Do you have any tips, techniques or methods that you would like to share with other youth working on landscape or seascape restoration?
Sumarni: First, it is better to use local tree species rather than fast-growing trees that do not belong to the ecosystem. So, it is important to do research on the condition of the area before degradation occurred in order to gain information about the local trees and the local people’s preference of tree. Because the aim of restoration is not only to restore the degraded forest but also to support the economies of the local people. Second, we also need to integrate the people’s indigenous or traditional knowledge into our work, including their knowledge of how to make seedlings, choosing the right species and the best time to plant the tree.
Grace: I believe that passion and tenacity are our defining strengths as youth. As the pandemic continues to limit our capacity to do things, it is our passion and spirit that inspire us to keep going with our work to help coastal communities and to protect the surrounding environment, despite the adversities. It is essential to believe that our efforts to protect nature and help our communities will prove to be beneficial in the future. Hence, our passion will always be the asset that continues to drive us to change the world.
Camille: Has there been any emerging awareness in your community about the importance of your restoration work? Besides the pandemic, what are the challenges in conducting restoration work in your community and how do you overcome them?
Sumarni: Yes, more and more people are aware of the importance of restoring degraded peat because they have already experienced the impact of peatland degradation, such us flooding and forest fires. One of the big challenges in restoring degraded peatland is the climate. Dry weather has caused a low survival rate of our planting. To overcome this, we engage youth to monitor the trees.
Grace: We have educated youth, students and tourists within the community in an effort to raise their awareness about the important role of coral reefs, and about the climate crisis. One of the challenges that we’ve encountered so far is engaging the local government or even the ministry to support our conservation efforts. This is due to complicated bureaucracies.
We’ve also found it difficult to provide non-monetary benefits to locals who are equally committed. Therefore, we believe it is necessary to use a specialized, routine and collaborative approach that involves fellow environmental groups in order to continue our programs, despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic.
Camille: Did digital media help in your restoration work? If so, in what way? Has there been a situation or moment when digital technology, including Internet usage, has not been beneficial to your work?
Sumarni: We use social media to educate people about the importance of peatland, and why it is crucial to restore degraded peatland. Social media help us a lot in our work.
Grace: Digital media have proved beneficial in our restoration activities, specifically in amplifying our programs through exposure in order to garner support from the wider public, both material and non-material. Especially in light of the pandemic, digital platforms such as Zoom have helped us immensely to provide training to locals on coral reef restoration. However, in initiating the program, a hands-on approach is still needed to ensure the sustainability of our program.
Camille: What is your most memorable moment, greatest achievement or milestone from doing restoration work in your community?
Sumarni: I have many memorable moments that I really cherish. These include seeing the tree that we have planted grow taller than me. Or hearing that the youth we involved in our work started their own restoration work in their village
Grace: One of our greatest achievements has been our successful planting of 2,000 baby corals, with the help of local university students and fellow environmental enthusiasts. This was especially endearing since we were directly involved in planting the corals, and we were then able to see them grow further during our monitoring sessions.
In meeting with locals and hearing their struggles during the pandemic, we became increasingly motivated to discover more ways to make conservation translate to additional income for them.
Camille: What would you like to share with youth around the world working in the same landscape as you are?
Sumarni: Ecology restoration is not only about protecting or restoring the damaged ecosystem but also about restoring the connection that the human has with the soil, land, trees and animals. Because the connection to the petak danum – meaning land and water in the Dayak Ngaju language – is the driving force to protect the ecosystem. People understand the importance of the ecosystem and want to protect it.
Grace: Don’t give up! Together we can accomplish great things! An action as simple as picking up trash is still a huge contribution to saving our oceans from the millions of threats they continue to face.
Camille: Where do you see your landscape in 10 years’ time?
Sumarni: More and more young people, women and Indigenous community members will be participating in restoration works.
Grace: My vision is simple – I would like to see the coral reef ecosystems restored to the beautiful seascape that it was before. Whatever effort we need to undertake to keep our baby corals alive, my team and I will continue our work so that our children and grandchildren can still see our corals the way I see them now, and to see them thriving and surviving through the climate crisis.
Camille: What would you like to see in our youth today?
Sumarni: They are aware that we are in a time of crisis, that we are on the verge of ecological destruction, and that we don’t have much time to restore the Earth.
Grace: I would like to see them continue the fight to protect our ecosystems and to represent our country in local and global forums, defending the rights and habitats of our flora and fauna from further destruction before they end up on the IUCN Red List. Ultimately, I would like to see them contribute, in whatever capacity, to restoring our ecosystems for generations to come.
Camille: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Sumarni: In Central Kalimantan province, we have around 1.1 million hectares of degraded peatland that needs to be restored. And it is not an easy task to return the degraded forest to its original condition. It takes time, a lot of effort and many resources. But if we work together, engaging as many stakeholders as possible, including youth, women and the Indigenous community, we can make this happen. Because protecting the forest is the responsibility of all.
Camille: Thank you so much for the wonderful insights into your work. I really hope that the young people who are reading this will find inspiration in what you do. Keep inspiring and, as Grace said, we can accomplish many things when done together. I couldn’t agree more.