When Toby Jacobs and Scott Duncan first met each other on the ultimate frisbee field, they had no idea that they would someday end up working together side by side planting red mangroves on the small island of Guanaja, Honduras.
But that's where they found themselves in 2008 when they first travelled to Guanaja together to survey the damage to mangrove fields caused by Hurricane Mitch a decade earlier. What they found was a still-devastated landscape. The hurricane had wiped out 95% of all the red mangroves on the island along with a lot of houses, boats, and reefs. Guanaja sits about 30 miles off the coast of Honduras and ten miles from the nearest island, too far away for the red mangroves to be naturally repopulated by nearby stands, at least quickly. Red mangrove stands provide habitat for all kinds of marine life, stabilize the soils they grow in, sequester CO2, and act as a buffer for reefs against silt runoff from the land. Soon after the hurricane, fishermen in Guanaja were finding less fish in nearby waters, a result of the depleted spawning grounds found in the mangroves.
In just the few years since they made that first visit, Scott and Toby have been back many times and overseen the replanting of over 80,000 new red mangrove propagules (the technical term for a baby plant). They've planted thousands themselves, lead trips of volunteers doing the same, and even hosted Jimmy Carter for a visit. Mr. Carter was fishing with Scott, who makes a living as a professional fishing guide, and stopped in to see their progress and even to plant a propagule or two himself.
Here are seven questions answered by Toby Jacobs and Scott Duncan.
MNN: Why Guanaja?
Toby Jacobs: Scott had already been there to start a fly fishing tour business. We were actually talking at boot (an indoor variation of ultimate frisbee) and he mentioned that all of these mangroves were damaged, and I said "hey I know all about that!". I kept asking him questions about it, we both did some research on our own, and then decided to go down for a week to check it out. We saw that there was a ton to do and that it didn't take a lot of expertise (for a few different reasons), so we decided it'd be cool to go back with some volunteers as many times as possible.
Red mangrove trees that were destroyed by 1998's Hurricane Mitch.
How are things going? How are the propagules you planted in previous years taking root?
Things are going well. We haven't done any formal quantitative analyses, and we can tell just from looking at the plot that propagule success has been extremely variable. There are these little crabs that will eat all the propagules that are in their territory, so there are vast swaths where everything gets wiped out. Others had ~90% success rate over the first year. In the later plantings we were getting to the point where we had to spend all the time physically planting (due to it being in season and having more prop's), so we kind of abandoned the GPS plotting and a lot of the initial monitoring side.
What kind of role do the Guanaja locals play in all this?
There was a local group, that I believe consisted entirely of islanders but was led by a French researcher, that did a lot of replanting 3-5 years after the storm. A lot of what they planted was in the canal area, which is of limited ecological utility for a variety of reasons, but that area has been providing most of the propagules for our planting in the more sensitive areas. A local (former) fisherman, Ray Powery, has done a wave of plantings on his own, too. He's a really charismatic guy and may have planted as many as 150,000 propagules on his own.
Does the world need saving?
The ecological world needs saving - or at least needs to be left alone for a good long while. The geological and climatic world is in the process of saving itself, and we'd better get the (bleep) out of the way!
Toby uses a kayak as a barge while planting.
What's the difference between green and greener?
Green is being eco-friendly as a luxury after everything else is taken care of. Greener is making the environment the only priority.
Who is one person doing good in the world (besides yourself) who we should know about and why?
is an uber-lawyer that started a non-profit that's going around taking on large corporations on the issue of corporate person-hood. I think they've got their work cut out for them, but he's definitely a bad*ss dude.
(Shea's note: I invited Toby and Scott to create and answer his own question here) Can the largest conservation goals be achieved through appeals to logic and changing people's minds?
Great question! This is definitely the attitude of lots of funders and organizations focusing on education and capacity-building, but I have my doubts. We can see in everything from smoking to carbon footprints that knowing something's harmful sometimes isn't a deterrent. I think our current lives are so disconnected with the natural world, that there's an overarching normalcy bias, and the vast majority of people won't change until it's too late. I look to a serious societal downshift, brought on by erratic climate, peak oil, and normalizing of the economy to put us back on a sustainable track.
Scott sits and talks with President Jimmy Carter.
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