Laughing and spraying each other with a hose, Yasuke Okimoto (Oki) and Sigit Deni Sasmito clean up after a long day of field research in a Kalimantan mangrove forest in Indonesia.
“Mangrove research in the field is like playing in the mud – it’s a theme park, you have to climb up and down the anchor roots like a monkey,” says Oki, a Japanese scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) who has spent years working in mangroves in Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand.
Sigit is a young Indonesian just one year into his career at CIFOR – but he’s already working in one of the more challenging environments forestry offers.
“I wear scuba diving booties because if you wear boots, they get stuck in the mud. And I am covered in bites from the many small biting insects,” he says.
“It’s hard work pulling up the mangrove roots out of the mud for the carbon stock assessment.”
“You have to be tough,” adds Oki.
But despite the mud and the mosquitoes, they enjoy the work.
“I love working in the mangroves – it’s better than being stuck in the office,” says Sigit.
“I even put on weight when I’m in the field, because we eat so much delicious seafood – crabs, shrimps and fish that live in the mangroves – and we can fish together with the workers and the partners.”
“I caught seven fish and Oki just caught six, so I won the fishing competition!”
The two young scientists are working on a CIFOR project to assess the total carbon sequestered by different kinds of mangrove ecosystem, with a special focus on the biomass of the trees’ below-ground roots, which have been little-studied until now.
This is the first of several trips to the same location – a logging concession in Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan – and the scientists hadn’t yet been able to obtain accurate information about the local tidal schedules.
This meant that during the week of the research, the low tides fell at night, which caused a number of extra challenges.
The team had to wade into to mangroves when the water was still chest-high – and it made collecting soil samples difficult, as they need to be collected at close to low tide.
“We were warned by the locals that the estuary crocodiles come out at night, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.,” says Oki.
“But because we had bad conditions with the tidal level, we needed to wait until evening to collect the soil samples and the measurement of the pH and salinity.”
“Our boss told us that late at night the tide would be low enough for us to take the measurements. He said, ‘Oki and Sigit, let’s go to the field in the night time when the crocodiles are around, are you brave enough?’”
Fortunately, he was joking – and they managed to get the samples just before dusk, and return to base camp without running into any large reptiles.
This work is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestryand is supported by USAID.
For more information about CIFOR’s wetlands research visit: www.cifor.org/swamp