Phil Doring's Diary


Thursday, July 12, 2007 Sunday, August 5, 2007
Tuesday, August 7, 2007 Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Thursday, August 9, 2007 Friday, August 10, 2007
Saturday, August 11, 2007 Sunday, August 12, 2007
Monday, August 13, 2007 Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Wednesday, August 15, 2007 Thursday, August 16, 2007
Friday, August 17, 2007  

Thursday, July 12, 2007 Wow. I cannot believe there is less than three weeks to go before departure! I have had all my travel shots, got my anti-malaria pills (I will be sure not to forget them!), and booked all flights.

It’s going to be a long journey. From Perth, West Australia, it’s almost 11 hours to Dubai. From there, it’s another five or so hours to Nairobi, Kenya, and then one more flight down to Mombassa for an overnight stay. Seventeen hours in total! That bed is going to feel superb.

The next day, I meet my team—six others in total. They are from Japan, Scotland, Canada, Holland, and Russia (a fellow Alcoa employee).

I have been reading up on the Tidal Forests of Kenya project and am quite excited! It is going to be an amazing, memorable time, and I’m certain I will be richer for the experience and will be even more enthused to carry on with this kind of work.

Next weekend is Alcoa’s annual tree-planting weekend. I went last year and had a fabulous time. I met some fantastic fellow workers, and I can’t wait to see how last year’s trees are shaping up!

Sunday, August 5, 2007 It’s the eve of my expedition. After all the planning and preparation, I am now ready to go. I have been excited and also a little anxious!

This is not the first time I have visited Africa, but the last visit was almost a decade ago, and a lot has changed since then.

I must sign off, as I have set my alarm clock for 3:30 a.m. and need a good night’s sleep. Let the journey begin!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007 I arrived in Mombasa late last night and managed to get a fair night’s sleep. I set out early for a walk around the old town. As it was early, I pretty much had the place to myself! It was a nice introduction to Kenya. Already the people seemed very warm and welcoming.

I met the Earthwatch team at 2 p.m. and headed to Gazi Village, about a one-and-a-half-hours drive south. This gave me time to get to chat to some of the other team members.

We were shown to our rooms, where we unpacked and settled in. After a quite tasty dinner of traditional Swahili fare, we all introduced ourselves properly and had a briefing about the project. Most of us retired early, as it had been a long journey (me in particular!).

Wednesday, August 8, 2007 After breakfast, we had a talk by Dr. James Kairo, who heads up the local mangrove project. He spoke about the ecology of mangrove forests here in Kenya and globally. It has become very clear that the clearing of mangroves has quite a large impact on the surrounding environment and the people who live in the vicinity.

The mangroves control coastal erosion (this became very apparent during the 2004 tsunamis), and they provide sediment stabilization, carbon sequestration, and control of water quality. They are also a source of fuel wood, timber, charcoal, furniture, and employment.

After the talk, we were given a tour of the village and surrounds by the friendly locals. After lunch, we set out on what is affectionately known as “The Marathon.” This involved a walk down through the existing mangrove system, starting from just outside the village and eventually ending up right down at the water. We had to trudge through mud up to our knees! Thankfully, we were advised in the expedition briefing to purchase sturdy dive booties, which really made the going a lot easier.

The purpose of this walk was to see firsthand the way the mangroves have adapted to the variations in the soil, the amount of salt versus fresh water, the effects of tide, etc. I found it quite fascinating and well worth all the hard slog! We were promised it wouldn’t be this hard going every day!

In the evening, we were treated to a welcome by the village. The villagers danced for us, and the “chairman” gave a welcome speech. Later, we joined in the dancing and even got invited along to some pre-wedding celebrations. This traditional Muslim wedding would last for the next three days!

Thursday, August 9, 2007 Today we went to the main project site called Kinondo, which is located adjacent to a farm owned by a very helpful and friendly local named Likani.

We set about marking out two-meter-square quadrants as experimental plots and commenced counting all animal life and pneumatophores (roots that grow vertically out of the ground like chimneys to obtain oxygen, etc.) within this area.

There are two main species of crabs. Ucas, or fiddler crabs, have one large claw that is vivid orange (apparently to attract the females!). The other is Sesarmind, a larger crab that makes quite a large hole and also plays a vital role in turning over the soil and getting oxygen down deep in the ground.

We also recorded various snails, which climb up the plants as the tide rises. All this information was documented for later entry into the lab computers.

In the evening, we were given a talk by a local fisherman who explained life for an adult in the village, from fishing to marriage. It was a very interesting talk.

Friday, August 10, 2007 We returned to the field for more counting of animals. The weather was quite hot and humid, which made the work quite tiring.

The daily morning break at the Coconut Café is always most welcome. At around 11 a.m., we retire to the shade of the palm trees and are served fresh coconuts, which the locals skillfully chop the tops off and serve up to drink. They then fashioned us a spoon out of coconut to scoop out the tasty flesh inside.

Coconut palms are another vital plant for the people of Gazi. The coconut is a large part of the local diet, and the leaves are very common in the roofing material of the houses. They are also used for cooking, and the used shells are even burned as a cooking source. Nothing goes to waste!

Our talk this evening was by Martin, our team leader and a very knowledgeable doctor from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom. He spoke of mangrove ecology and biodiversity.

We all depend on ecosystems for survival. They provide us with clean air to breathe, the timber we use to build our houses and fuel our fires, etc. The relationship between the number of species in an ecosystem and that ecosystem’s ability to function is mostly unknown. Given the loss of species in ecosystems around the world, the impact of reduced specie diversity on ecosystem function is an issue of great importance.

Saturday, August 11, 2007 It’s back to Kinondo. Dr. Kairo has devised a method to extract soil samples from the experimental plots. We labeled bags for depths that ranged from 0 to 400 millimeters (16 inches), with 100 millimeters (four inches) of soil for each sample. There were 32 core samples per plot.

The purpose of the samples was to determine the biomass below ground, i.e., the amount of organic material, which was mainly roots.

Once the samples were all taken for the morning, we returned to the lab and set about separating the roots from the soil. It was quite a tedious task! Dr. Kairo suggested we sit out in front of the lab to do the work, as there was a mild breeze to keep us a little cooler than inside. We soon had a large audience of local kids who were very interested in our work.

Our speaker this evening was a Kenyan man named Davis. He was studying tourism at a university in England, and he spoke of the importance of tourism in modern Kenya, particularly in the local region.

They had suffered from the terrorist bombings in Mombassa in recent years, and the challenge was to restore people’s faith in the government’s efforts to prevent a repeat of the attacks. It seems the country is in quite healthy form, and tourism can really help alleviate poverty.

Davis is very optimistic about tourism in Kenya, and after his fantastic talk, I shared his optimism.

Sunday, August 12, 2007 It’s back to the field for more soil sampling. Other members of the crew were assigned to do measurements on other plants, including measuring leaves, stalk diameter, tree height, etc.

We returned to the village a little earlier than usual to get cleaned up for a special treat. The village treated us to a lunch in “the palace,” which is an old colonial building that, in its glory day, would have been an opulent building.

One of the doors, reputedly made of ivory, showed some evidence of that era. On a darker note, we were shown a cellar behind the building that was used to hold slaves. Quite a sobering thought.

After some more lab work, we were in for another treat in the evening. We were split into groups. I was with Fritz from Amsterdam and Satoko from Japan. We went to a village home and shared a nice meal. After dinner, we exchanged stories about our own homes and careers.

Monday, August 13, 2007 Today was our leisure day. We were driven down to Kisite Marine Park for a ride on a traditional dhow sailing vessel.

The islands in the park were quite spectacular, and the marine life below them equally so. In returning to shore, the captain shut off the dhow’s motor, and we came in by the wind. It was a very tranquil experience.

Once safely ashore, we were shown some scenic caves where slaves were held for up to two weeks while enroute to Zanzibar. On the way out of the cave, Martin spotted a small green chameleon. Having never seen one before, it was quite a treat.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007 It’s the last day at Kinondo, and we commenced planting. It’s quite a big day.

We set out planting new mangroves from the nursery and also some “wildings”—small plants from existing stands that have sprung up from seeds dropped from mature plants.

There are three main mangrove species being planted here: Avicennia, Bruguiera, and Ceriops. Our aim is to mix up the species and plant them in varying degrees of density to determine how the plants will work together and hopefully prosper.

It was heavy work ferrying plants using a stretcher made from sticks and old Hessian bags. The digging was done using machetes and shovels. The most rewarding part was the final planting of the young trees. The success rate is around 85%, which seemed quite good odds.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007 Today we planted on the beach at Gazi, and it was very scenic. We took turns hopping in the jeep to drive to the beach where the seedlings had been planted the year before. We dug out them out, put them on the stretcher, trudged on up through the mud, and loaded them into the jeep.

As the jeep was now full, I joined Martin, Rudelle (Canada), and Liza (Scotland) in walking the 20 minutes along the beach and through the edge of the mangroves to the planting site. This gave us an opportunity to view firsthand the damage caused by the removal of a wide section of mangroves in previous years. A large “wave” of sand had migrated along the coast, engulfing all the plants in its wake and eventually killing them.

We completed the planting and returned to the village for another event with the lovely Gazi locals. It was time for the traditional Earthwatch versus Gazi football (soccer) match. Bernard, a Ph.D. student working with us, was our referee. After some stretches, we kicked off. The village had assembled its most talented players, and we were thoroughly beat, nine to one! The locals are football mad here.

It was sodas all round to celebrate afterward. Most of us were quite tired this evening.

Thursday, August 16, 2007 It was the last day of project. We completed all the planting at Gazi, and by lunchtime it was time to pack up.

Most of us wandered out to the water to wash off the mud. I noticed a silence had fallen over the team. Everyone seemed to be reflecting on the past 10 days.

We were from almost every continent on the planet, and we came to a small village in east Africa to help make a difference. We will all miss Gazi. The people have been very welcoming.

I went for a walk back to the beach in the afternoon and realized all our freshly planted plants were under water, as the tide had risen! Wow, I hope the little fellas don’t drown.

After dinner, Dr. Kairo and Martin thanked us all for our efforts. We had achieved all the work we had planned to do and some extra. We all went to the beach and had a fire and sing-along. Some of the team had not seen southern hemisphere stars before, so it was a treat for them.

Friday, August 17, 2007 It was time to pack up and say our goodbyes. It was sad to leave Gazi behind, and I will certainly return if I get back to Kenya some day. It was a memorable experience.

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