On this, our final day of Earthwatch, Team 3 shared some final thoughts before heading home:
Lisa Mills:Words really can’t describe the things I have experienced in Kenya. If I try to put it into words, I would say I have experienced culture, religion, history, education, kindness, friendship, delicious food, and strange smells. What a trip! Kwaheri, Gazi.
Aifan Liu: I can’t believe that we’re leaving already. There’s still a lot of work to do – more trees to plant, more plots to measure… come on, new volunteers!
Sandra Kim: Jambo! I am overwhelmed with emotion this morning. I have not only learned so much, but I have also made friends. I want to thank Martin, Kairo and their team for opening my eyes, for teaching me so much and making my experience great. This trip has left and imprint on my life!!
Mike Cribbs: Wow! What a trip. It is hard to believe that the end is here. The days were long, filled with hard work, great meals and lots of soaking in of the local culture. I will miss the “team”, the village and its people but am anxious to get back to my family.
Rowan Mackenzie: Awesome experience – far exceeded my expectations. Hard work at times but very rewarding – beautiful mangroves, beautiful Kenyan people and great Earthwatch Team to share this journey with. I have received so much from this and hope that I’ve contributed in a small way to making the world a little better.
Randall Hamilton: What an experience! I was overwhelmed by the joyful attitude of the entire village. Being able to aid the scientists on such an essential project was very gratifying. Lifelong friends have been made and a greater appreciation of the human spirit worldwide. Fantastic journey.
Colleen Kredell: I knew that coming to Kenya for this trip would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but I couldn’t have possibly dreamed of it being this great. From the Earthwatch and KMFRI teams to the people of Gazi and everyone in between that we met, I will forever be indebted for both their generosity and willingness to share knowledge and culture. I will be back, and next time with diving boots and better Swahili. Asante sana, Kenya!
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August 9: A final day in the field, then a football game
Jambo! Today is our last day in the field. Several different emotions are running at the same time: I don’t want to leave, but then again I want to get home and see my family. After breakfast we went to the lab to gather our tools for the day. Our task today was to go into the mangroves and measure tree diameter, height, and coordinates in a specific plot. We then were going to take soil samples in specified areas to sort root sediment then place all of the roots (broken up) and soil back into the hole, mark the hole with stakes, and chart the area. Walking in the mangrove mud was a chore but we finally succeeded. Tasks completed, we got ready to leave the area and rain started falling hard. We did not have a chance to don raingear. I don’t think anyone minded anyway.
After our march back to the compound (video clip) we took showers and got ready to visit a local school: KAG School Msambweni, ages 6-13 years. Headmaster Harrison greeted us and gave us a tour of the grounds and classes. We then went out and joined the horticulture group and planted Casuarina pine trees on the grounds. After planting we washed up and were treated with an assembly of the entire school. Nine students arranged in a half circle recited a poem then two young girls advanced from the crowd and did a religious song (duet). One female student then did a poem and the finale was seven students reciting a short story.
Returning in the van, I couldn’t get the song the two young girls sang out of my head. I could see the genuine desire to get an education in their eyes and the pride of accomplishment in their smiles. This was a highlight of the trip.
Back home, we prepared ourselves for our final village event: the Eartwatch v. Gazi soccer match. Our team, with the support of a few Kenyan scientists and an Italian scientist, met on the field to play the local Gazi Youth Group boys soccer team. We ran up and down the field avoiding tree stumps, ditches, and goats in an effort to score a goal. In the end, we fared well: a 3-3 tie. It was a great way to end the day, even if most of the Earthwatch team had to walk home exhausted from playing.
August 8: Crabs are important, and not just to eat
Today's blogger: Colleen Kredell
Wedding celebrations went on into the night but I woke up feeling rested and lucky to have been a part of yesterday’s amazing activities.
After breakfast, we set out for the beach here in Gazi to plant the final seedlings along the shoreline. Today’s planting went much differently than the last. Where in Kinondo we were able to dig holes and fill them with seedlings at our own pace, here in Gazi we had to rush to plant the tree before water filled the hole. Working together we improved our methods quickly and after a morning’s work we had filled a full plot with mangrove seedlings. We were even lucky enough to find a crab in a tree stump and with the help of John, caught the crab for today’s lunch. Along with two slipper lobsters bought off the beach from a local fisherman, we had ourselves a deliciously fresh Gazi Bay lunch.
After finishing up our fresh seafood, the team worked to finish inputting our remaining data sheets. Later in the afternoon another research team visited to share a presentation on a project they are working on in Gazi. Dr. Stefano Kinichi of Florence University is here with his team to study the effects of climate change on crabs that are indigenous to mangrove ecosystems. It was very interesting to learn more about the role of crabs in mangrove areas - especially after spending so much time counting them in the plots! As crabs bring oxygen to the roots of the mangrove system, they are an integral part to maintaining the ecosystem. Dr. Kinichi’s project team is working in cooperation with universities in Germany, South Africa, Mexico, Australia and the US to study a variety of parameters that will affect crabs and their ecosystems as a result of climate change. The project will provide data that can then be used to estimate a specific species of crabs’ ability to adapt to the pressures of climate change.
I’ve enjoyed all of the science-focused presentations of the trip and was happy to get some further insight into some of the animals we have been working with so far. I never would have thought that those little fiddler crabs could be so important!
August 7: A day of work; a day of life in life in Gazi village
We awoke this morning after a night of interrupted sleep from both the usual village animal noise and the musical celebrations for upcoming weddings. Gazi Village is scheduled for four weddings this weekend!
But first we were off to the field for our final day at Kinondo. Today both the Earthwatch and KMFRI teams were in full force, finishing up biomass measurements, counting wildlings, and (finally!) planting mangrove seedlings. Between all of us, we planted over 400 young mangrove trees – just think of how much stored carbon that could mean! We’re hoping that the planting is successful enough to offset more than just our travel to and from Kenya.
We had our final madafu break (fresh coconuts from the tree) under a coconut tree where Dr. Kairo explained the successes (and failures) of planted seedlings in the past. Our team was
confident that ours would be a fully successful planting, though. Before leaving, Kenyan, Australian, American and Chinese team members alike competed in a coconut shell throwing contest. I like to think we all came out winners.
We took our final bus ride out of Makongeni (the village where the Kinondo plantations are found) back to Gazi for lunch. To our surprise, we were told we’d be having lunch in the village at a wedding celebration that turned out to be one of the larger events in recent Gazi history. After scrubbing the mud off of our arms and legs and finding wedding attire from our limited wardrobes, the full team headed down to the wedding for lunch.
We were invited into a large tented area for special guests where we were served biriani and a beef curry that we ate with our now clean hands. The chili relish was as hot as a nibble pie from Warrnambool. Dessert was equally delicious: coconut milk ice cream and matobosha, a warm dessert that seemed to be a mix between rice pudding and bread pudding.
After our meal, we joined the rest of the village in the streets for music and dancing. Once we had reached sensory overload, we headed through the coconut tree plantation to watch the grand final soccer game between two local teams – Makongeni won.
It was a long day but I think the most rewarding one on the trip so far. It’s amazing what you’re able to fit into less than 24 hours.
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August 6: Recreation Day
Today was our recreation day and we headed off to Shimba Hills National Reserve at 6am in order to catch the animals before they went deeper into the reserve for the heat of the day. Mama Niko packed us a delicious brunch to eat in the car – home-made bread, samosas, boiled eggs and bananas. Once we arrived at the Reserve, we popped the top of the van up and headed off with cameras and binoculars at the ready. We saw sable antelope, giraffes, buffalo, warthog and topi. We saw elephants from a great distance. Even through the binoculars they were not more than a speck. In the company of a guide carrying an automatic rifle, we hiked into the reserve for about a mile to Sheldrick Falls. Colleen, Mike and Rowan were brave enough to stand under the falls for a refreshing natural shower.
We all napped in the bus on the way back to Diani for lunch. Our restaurant was right on the beach, overlooking the ocean. The restaurant was called Forty Thieves; however, we all made it out with all of our possessions! Rain set in for the afternoon, so we had to cancel our plan of visiting the kaya – a sacred ancient forest. Instead, we were able to fit in a spot of shopping at the local handicraft market. This pleased the women of the group no end!
Once the rain had passed we headed back to the beach for a relaxing sunset drink – a great end to our recreation day. We drove the 1hr trip back to Gazi Bay for another one of Mama Niko’s scrumptious dinners – chicken casserole and pilau.
Immediately after breakfast, Randy gave us a "Football 101" lesson to prepare us for the match with the local youth team next Monday. I learned that we should try to stay around our assigned positions and not to run around too much in order to save energy for the real play. Smart!
As the grain size analysis is pending at the lab, we spent the first hour of the morning in the lab, weighing and shaking the mud sample. Then we all headed to the field to continue the biodiversity study in the plots. We were divided into three teams, one of which did root work to help Lang’at on his study of the Impact of Harvesting on Carbon Balance and Functioning of the Mangrove Forest, and the other two teams did the crab count (see a video clip) and tree measurement. This may all sound like easy work, but wait until you do it for 4 or 5 hours in a row! We have a team that never complained, though, and everybody competed for the hardest tasks. As a result, we are already half a day ahead of schedule. Bravo, team!
Late afternoon, Dr. Kairo brought us to a Casuarina farm. Casuarina is a species of pine, originally from Australia, and chosen as a substitute wood to relieve the pressure on the use of mangrove. There is a pub and restaurant attached to the farm, and we ended our visit there with dinner and presentations on Michael and John’s master studies.
In the evening we heard the life stories of Sandra and Martin. Once again, the stories are fascinating.
It has been great sharing all along, and sharing is caring.
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August 4: Close encounter
Today's blogger: Mike Rowan
Today we went back to the to the Gazi mangroves. I let Sandra borrow my coat because I was confident that it would not rain, but I was wrong. We had a pretty heavy shower, but it was quite beautiful in many ways standing in the pouring rain under the mangroves. After the rain it got very hot and steamy while we collected biomass data. The tide was too high for us to complete our mud sample work this morning so we planned to return in the afternoon. While walking back we came across a large troop of baboons at the edge of the mangroves. I was in front of our walking train and when I came out of the palm trees I came face to face with a big baboon. About the size of a large dog, he quickly turned and took off into the mangroves along with all the others. Hermissi tells us that the baboons are frightened of people and would be in the area trying to collect coconuts, which they are able to break open the very hard shell and eat.
Day 4 started off with breakfast and rain (though only for a short time). The breakfast is consistent: mandazi (fried dough triangles), beans, toast and coffee. Martin said that Kairo asked him if he was working the group hard enough because they get up much earlier than other groups. Then we all got ready to head into the field for the second day of field work. On the way to the work site we had a baboon cross in front of the van but I was not able to get a picture as I was in the front but did not have my camera out. At the site we split to two groups to count crabs and snails in the plots with Lisa and Rowan going with Langat to do
plant biomass. Shortly after getting started, it started to rain and we had to put on our rain gear and even head to the trees for shelter. The plant group found a small cave in a rock outcrop to hide in. The rain stopped in about 10 minutes and we soon got back to work (it gets very hot after it rains here). We took a break again today for some delicious coconut; Latani (who has a farm bordering the site and works with the Earthwatch group) makes quick work cutting/carving up the coconuts for us. When we were done we finished 14 plots and only have 6 or 7 left to do. Then back to the lab for data entry. The children in the village (and there are lots of them) love to come out and say "Jambo" (hello) every time we come back and they love to have their pictures taken and see them on the camera. They really loved Rowan playing his guitar during some down time and we are getting lots of pictures. Before dinner we had a talk by Kairo on “Payment for ecosystem services." He
gave some data from the IPCC annual report from the countries of the team members and of course Kenya. We ended with some great discussion on the topic. Dinner was great as usual: though the fish originally does not look appetizing, the only thing left was the heads. After dinner we loaded into the van for a trip south to an establishment ”Qwah’swell” to have the fellow talks. We had had talks from Colleen and Randy. Colleen talked about growing up in New Jersey, going to American University with a year in Ireland, an internship in Australia (very near Rowan and Lisa), her current Job for the PEW group managing the “Make an Impact” program for Alcoa, and living in Washington DC. Randy talked about his upbringing, college and work experiences and what he does for Alcoa, but his talk about being a small farmer in Kentucky drew lots of interest and questions. Then back to the house after a good night's activities to get some sleep before heading back to the mangroves in the morning to dig up mud pits.
The wind began to whisper about 4 am today and was quickly followed by rain. It was similar to the spring rain in the Southern U.S., rain that only lasts for about 15 minutes but comes down fast. It was very refreshing. After breakfast, the sun began to peek through, just in time for our first day out in the field. What a perfect day to be outdoors. I think after yesterday’s mangrove marathon we were all ready to start
our hands-on research day. Out in the field we got a quick overview of what we needed to do. Colleen and I got to work with plants, while the others worked with animals. There were plots of mangroves that were evenly spaced out 11x11. Some had only a single species, while others had two or three different ones. We measured the height and diameter of trees in the different plots and recorded them. We began to notice that the plots that had two different species; one had eventually dominated the other. We found it interesting that the plot with three different species did much better than the ones with only two. In the afternoon we took a break and sat under a tree and drank fresh coconut juice. To take a moment to realize what we are doing here brings a nostalgic feeling over us. Of course it’s fun to be in a new place, but the more rewarding feeling I think we all get is the fact that we are all here to learn something that we can take back home with us. We want to learn to how we can make changes to help protect our environment, nature and ultimately the world we keep harming. In the evening we had two speakers, Lang’at and Arthur. The first topic was regarding climate change and correlation with carbon and mangroves. We learned that mangroves have a higher potential than any other type of forest to store carbon in their biomass. Lang’at explained some of the current projects that he and the Gazi team are working on to try to determine what the potential is for the mangrove forests here to store carbon dioxide, a harmful gas that causes global warming and climate change. If they can restore and conserve the local forests, it sounds like they have a big opportunity to help reduce the impacts of climate change. The second topic was on malaria. Malaria symptoms include headache, fever, vomiting, body weakness, joint pain and the lack of appetite. Typhoid also has similar symptoms. Because of this a blood test is needed to make sure it is malaria. Only female mosquitoes can infect a person but just because one bites you does not mean that you have malaria. It takes 7 days to go through the incubation period through your bloodstream and liver. Malaria attaches to hemoglobin so people with malaria are usually anemic. In one hospital that covers about 131,000 people, about 100 people come in a month with malaria. Of those, about 6 people die, mostly children. There are a couple different treatments depending on how severe the malaria is. We found it interesting that malaria is curable but because of cultural beliefs people don’t go to the hospital until it’s too late. At night we had two people do small presentations. Mike Cribbs, from Howmet Whitehall, spoke of the Whitehall plant, his love for fishing and also the Michigan area that he lives. Lisa Mills, from Anglesea Powerstation in Australia, spoke about her lovely family, her background and also about the work she does in Anglesea. What a great way to end the evening! It was nice to hear them speak about their backgrounds and families, but it was also fascinating to be made aware what everyone does at their Alcoa locations.
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Today we started off on an orientation tour of the Gazi Bay mangroves, aptly named the "Mangrove Marathon." What started as a leisurely stroll through open mangroves ended up as a tough slog through
knee-deep mud climbing over and under mangrove branches and roots. Whilst it was hard going, we all agreed on how amazing the ecosystem was. After cleaning up and tending to a few cuts and scrapes, we went to the Gazi Women's Mangrove Boardwalk, which is a community-run conservation and education project. It is run by the women of Gazi as an alternate source of income. The women provided us a delicious lunch and took us on a tour of the boardwalk. After we were rested and refreshed, the mangrove marathon continued where we met local fishermen and saw the effects of erosion on the mangroves. After a well deserved shower, we met up with Hmissi Kirauni, a Gazi village local who took us on a tour of the village and very generously showed us through his own home. Everywhere we went we were greeted by children calling “jambo” (hello). Gazi village is extremely beautiful and full of the most happy and friendly people. Mama Nico (our own personal chef) cooked up a delicious biryani for dinner, which was followed by a talk from Hmissi about life in the village. He shared stories about his life as a fisherman, working for KMFRI (Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute), and how he met and married his beautiful wife Popo. It was a fantastic end to a fantastic day.
On day one of Team III Tidal Forests of Kenya, we were lucky enough to have the majority of our group happen across each other in downtown Mombasa. Together we traveled through the streets of Old Town
Mombasa visiting Fort Jesus, trying Swahili coffee, and negotiating the narrow pathways of market stalls. Though our guide books made Vasco de Gama’s well out to be a somewhat magical experience; in reality, it was not much more than a graffiti-covered cave encasing a laundry well. We met up with the complete team at our rendezvous point and loaded up gear and team into our van to head across the busy Likoni ferry to the South Coast. On the way, we passed bustling street stalls and markets selling everything from phone credit to car batteries, fruit and bed frames. The views were gorgeous but sometimes marred by the smell of burning rubbish. We finally arrived at our home for the next eleven days: Gazi Village. Over dinner, we discussed our hopes and expectations for the trip:
Lisa (Alcoa Anglesea): I am hoping that this is a life changing experience which may change the way I look at life back home.
Randall (Alcoa Warrick): I hope to learn different techniques in Earthwatch’s planting system that I can migrate back to my home garden and farm.
Aifan (Alcoa Asia Pacific – Beijing): I hope to make new friends with the people in the team and the community.
Mike (Alcoa Howmet – Whitehall): My hope is to learn about mangroves and their carbon sequestration and how it relates to global warming.
Rowan (Community Fellow - ): I’m hoping to make a contribution to the restoration project and add value to and learn from the local Gazi community as well.
Colleen (Community Fellow – Pew Center on Global Climate Change): I’m looking forward to learning more about the role of mangrove ecosystems in carbon sequestration and to meeting and learning from my Earthwatch team and the Gazi community.
Sandra (Alcoa Fastening Systems, Carson, CA): My hope is to open my eyes a little wider to the environmental issues that we are facing and also to learn how to start to make a difference, to start changing the way we live in order to face those challenges.