When we’re kids, it seems easy to make a change. Inexperience and youthful ignorance promises, in one stride, a future of adult-like achievements and glories that impact the world and the people.
It’s an impulse, isn’t it? The drive to outpace your parents? To persist in history rather than fade with it? It’s naïve, a form of fear, but it’s a youthful synonym for hope. In young eyes, we want to see the world be better in our hands than those before.
We woke earlier than usual to gear up for a long day in the heat. It’s not the Evansville type of warmth with swimming humidity and hair-singing ferocity that persists from dawn till moonlight. It took a severe sunburn by 2pm for me to notice it was hot at all. We had a quick breakfast (we were advised not to drink the water), and then we trekked to a very mosquito-infested area on the mouth of the estuary.
We surrounded a dock and a very knowledgable leader who explained to us the Mangrove Project he’d been pursuing for many years now, here, on the beaches we stood on. Prior knowledge told me that global warming (caused by about a million anthropogenic reasons) was changing global temperatures. Polar ice caps have been shrinking for years, and the fresh, cold water sinks into the ocean, causing the sea levels to rise and precious coastland to flood and disappear.
The effect can be shown most clearly by my experience on those beaches in Costa Rica. I knew that the ocean levels were rising. I knew that high tide, in some places, was getting higher and higher. The difference, however, was that I could see it here with my own eyes. Every several hundred feet there were concrete markers buried in the dirt or the sand. I didn’t understand what I was seeing at first.
“They mark the change in high tide,” our guide explained. Each concrete block shows how the tide moves farther inland, and they indicate that the beaches are shrinking. It’s not a slow, decade by decade thing. The shoreline reduces every year. People’s homes are lost every year.
When we were driving on the bus along the center of the island, on my right I could see the estuary, and on my left I could see the ocean. One minor flood, and the island, along with old homes and family-owned hotels, would be washed away. Many already were.
Commercial builders interested in tourism would buy a plot on the island and set to clearing the land. They’d pull up the mangroves on the estuary and the uglier palms on the pacific beach to make room for their pretty walls and profitable businesses. A lot of money and hard work later, the island would flood and the property would wash away.
Our guide lined us up around several plastic bottles with dirt and an alien arm inside (I’ll explain later). I was one of the first in line and almost every bottle I picked up came with a little gray crab that, I kid you not, projectile launched itself from the bottle to the ground. They scuttled away faster than we could shriek in surprise.
I was the designated Journalist, so I counted each alien arm and excluded the dead ones. Our guide stood us around them all, and he explained what they were. The alien arm was a propagule. They were hand-plucked from the mangrove trees, planted in reused plastic 2-liters, and then left to germinate about 10 inches. The ones we took had grown to an acceptable height, and we all piled onto the bus with our plants and drove about five minutes a little further into the island.
We parked next to a Mango Tree.
We were split into two groups. We stood along the estuary bank on the edge of a sagging brick wall built into the side of the mud. A beaten path sloped from where we stood to our left onto the muddy shore. Girls were filing out to the far end of the planting-site, their boots making a schlop sound with every step. We had to plant the propagules a foot away from each other, and then we had to take a small curved knife and cut the planted propagules from the bottle in way that kept the soil with the roots. It was difficult, and we had to run through slop before all the soil fell away.
We planted one hundred.
The purpose, our guide explained, was to prevent erosion. The roots of the mangroves anchored into the soil and held against the force of rising and falling estuary currents. The effect was a natural barrier against Global Warming. The little propagules we planted were literally holding the island down.
By the time we finished a few hours later, the water had already risen to our thighs, and the muddy shoreline was now submerged. Our guide shrugged, and he assured that at least some would survive to take root. We all took a picture by our group Mangrove Tree, which everyone called Scout (seems about right for a bunch of Girl Scouts).
The sweat and the muddy butts and the wet socks and the searing sunburns were proof that we didn’t just come here to take pretty pictures and fumble with our Spanish. We worked to conserve the land for everyone. We planted a seed to feed the world-wide community, not just our own.
Working to protect ourselves from the symptoms of our anthropogenic disease did not produce a cure, but we made a small difference that, someday, will grow to become something big.