SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
Planting some roots in Tonga
Nuku’alofa- Capital city on the main island Tongatapu
Ship’s Heading & Speed
Docked and resting
Clear, sunny, and hot!
Malo e Lelei from Nuku'alofa! We are enjoying our last day here before we head out to sea again tomorrow evening. We woke up early to a misty morning, all excited to take part in projects with a few representatives from the Tongan Ministry of Environment, whom we all got to meet and talk to over a lovely dinner last night. I, along with 12 other students, hopped into a couple of vans to make our way to the Hoi mangroves, where we went to learn about, and participate in, the planting of these trees along the lagoon of Nuku'alofa.
In the van, I watched the town go by through my window. Throughout our time here I have been entranced by the brilliant colors around us. Brightly colored houses- the blue and teal ones my favorite- slightly hidden behind magical gardens, that really look like little forests due to the size of some the plants. Bright green, pink, orange, and yellow leaves hug and frame these low lying houses, where Tongans sit outside enjoying the weather. A friendly smile crosses many of their faces as we pass in our van, and they give us an enthusiastic wave. In front of the their gardens, there are rows of light green watermelons, ready to be sold right there on the side of the road. Pigs and chickens run freely all around.
We arrived to the village of Hoi, climbing out of the vans to meet the mangrove specialist, Hoifua, who was there ready to answer all of our questions. He explained to us the importance mangrove plantations have to the local environment and Tongans alike. Mangrove trees bury their roots deep into the ground, which then holds the sediment around coasts together, thus preventing erosion. Mangroves also provides ideal environments for fish, by keeping waters clean from sediment. The presence of fish then provides a food staple for members of the community. Hoifua explained that he also planted particular species of mangroves that hold medicinal properties, so that they can also be used in this way by people of Hoi. Furthermore, mangroves break waves along the coast, and so are also great protectors against storms.
The most important part of ensuring success in planting mangroves, according to Hoifua, is having support from the community. The government cannot take any steps toward creating a mangrove plantation until the surrounding community agrees to actively take part in the project. This way the community not only is able to hold their autonomy and connection to their surrounding land, but can also actively learn about environmental issues and solutions.
We then moved on to actually plant mangroves ourselves, making our own contribution to the project and the land. Twenty little one-year-old mangroves were waiting for us on an open dirt field, ready to be planted. Hoifua found that it is most effective to grow mangroves in a nursery for one year prior to planning them into the ground, since free range pigs, which you see every which way you look in the streets of Tonga, love to eat the young mangrove.
Running my fingers through the dark brown clay-like dirt and packing it around the delicate mangrove tree reminded me of why we are all here as students, traveling to these different islands. We are not just passing through merely as tourists, but instead trying to connect with both the land and people, attempting to learn about both their struggles and victories by actively participating in the community, making connections and maybe even planting some roots.
Hoifua then brought us to the mangrove nursery, or in other words, his home. There is not an official place to keep a nursery, so Hoifua cares for these young mangroves right in his front yard. He had a magical little garden, with one large mangrove in the center, and many young mangroves potted all around. He left us there looking in awe while he snuck away and then came back with a large fish and many bouquets of fresh peanuts, as a thank you for our help.
We certainly had a lovely morning, and it was a great end to our time here in Tonga. Students are now out walking around the town, making their last visits to the large market down the road, or the popular ice cream shop right nearby. I am here in our ship's little library, happily reflecting on our trip so far, and eagerly imagining what is to come.
Lots of love to all the friends and family reading!