Sat. Apr 4th, 2020

Communities’ Earth Healing

 

Following on the success of reforestation and erosion control projects in Ngcherelong and Melekeok States, the Ebiil Society has been working with community members in Ngaremlengui to help them become stewards of their land.  [restrict

Ann Singeo, Director of Ebiil Society, initiated work with the Ngermetengl Women’s group in fall of 2016 after visiting the residential development and an old Japanese mine area.    Earthmoving was done on the sloping land to create a neighborhood of leased residential lots.  Although numerous houses have been built already, many lots remain vacant with no house and very little vegetation.  When heavy rain falls on soil like this it doesn’t go into the ground.  The water runs downslope across the properties like a raging river.  This is ‘hungry’ water as it takes soil with it, creating deep gullies in the dark red soil.  It flows toward the lagoon where it deposits the sediments on the coral reef.  Even school children now know that this is bad for the land and bad for the ocean.

Understanding that continued erosion around their homes and in their watershed would affect their livelihood, the Women’s Group was ready to take action.  A plan was developed to beautify their neighborhood and reduce erosion using green practices.  This entails the use of plants to cover the soil.  When rainfall hits plant leaves instead of falling on bare soil, it keeps erosion form starting.  Lemon grass plays an important role in the plan, too.  When planted in strips, lemon grass slows the runoff water and filters the sediments so they don’t pollute the ocean.

Ebiil Society’s botanist, VanRay Tadao, helped build a nursery on one Machas’ property. Then he led the Women’s Group to collect plants from the savannah and keep the plants in the nursery until planting day.  Native and endemic plants, including some important Palauan medicinal plants, were collected and prepared for planting.  The plan was twofold: 1. plant critical areas between the houses to beautify the properties and slow the rainfall runoff to reduce erosion, and 2. to plant Forest Islands in the old mine site area to start the reforestation process.  Sediment traps were planned to be built with hibiscus branches across small gullies.  This technique also slows down water and keeps sediments from making it to the ocean.

Earlier this year in April, a planting day was scheduled.  The Women’s Group and their families, along with employees from Ngaremlengui public works, Ebiil Society, Island Conservation, USDA NRCS, and US Embassy, gathered to plant six Forest Islands in the mine area.  82 plants per put into each of the 10 meter round Forest Islands.  Then betel nut leaf mulch was placed on top of the soil in the Forest Islands to help protect the soil and to add organic matter fertilizer to the soil as the mulch decomposes.

After a short break, the group went to one of the houses in the neighborhood to meet the students and teachers from the elementary school.  USDA’s Paul Lake, talked with the students about the watershed they live in and the water cycle.  He also discussed the impacts from poor soil management and erosion.   The students now understand that it is always best to keep the forest in place, reduce the amount of clearing done for residential developments, and to minimize burning in the watershed.  Soil is most healthy and resilient to erosion when it is covered with growing plants.  VanRay then worked with the students to plant an area of lemon grass and install a number of sediment traps.

It was a very successful day of planting in Ngermetengl.  After less than five months, the plants have taken root and their growth looks promising.  Ann believes that these sorts of community-based restoration projects will develop pride in the community and inspire more citizen scientists to participate in erosion control practices.

The Compact Road has provided easy access to many areas on Babeldoab resulting in a ‘silent explosion’ of development that will continue for years to come as people working in Koror want to return to live in their home state.  This is the time for people to see good examples of conservation stewardship needed to protect the land and the near shore environment. Congratulations to the good people of Ngaremlengui on the fine work that they continue to do to improve their state.  And a big thank you to Ebiil Society for their continued effort to foster conservation stewardship on Palau. [/restrict]