February 2017, our Ambassadors and Directors for Watertrek UK Mel & Paul travelled to Myanmar to explore the mangrove and see how Watertrek could get involved in protecting this fragile and indispensable ecosystem.
The strange almost sculpture like trees of Myanmar’s Mangroves were once in abundance, but now, due to habitat destruction and natural forces such as sediment build up they are endangered.
Myanmar’s costal mangroves were once widespread, but a combination of natural forces, such as sediment build-up and deforestation has left them under threat. Mangrove trees are routinely cut down for charcoal and firewood. They have also been cleared to provide more space for intensive prawn farming and for paddy fields.
Mangroves provide more than just fuel and habitat for the unique flora and fauna that thrive there; they also absorb up to five times more Co2 than any other trees and they can offer protection against extreme weather – acting as a first line of defence against cyclones and storm surges, helping to slow such forces down. In 2008, 138,000 people were killed when Cyclone Nargis sent a large storm surge 40 kilometres inland along the densely populated Irrawaddy Delta. While the future of the mangroves are uncertain organisations such as WIF are helping to restore these important and fragile environments. National parks such as the Thor Heyerdahl Climate Park are trying to reverse decline.
Located 250km west of Yangon, is the Thor Heyerdahl Climate Park. Made up of 1,800 acres of protected land, this is where Watertrek and WIF are looking to develop their replanting project.
After travelling by plane, bus and motorcycle taxi to the Shwethaungyan Mangrove Plantation, Mel & Paul Hyman found themselves in a traditional Myanmar village, which has been carved in two by a wide rivermouth. Nearby are sandy beaches, unspoiled by tourism development. However, sometimes, no matter how far you travel off the beaten track, it can be difficult to get away from the pollution of the modern world.
While the village’s beaches were wild and empty of people – they were not free of plastic rubbish. Bags, fishing nets and plastic bottle littered the coast line. The team organised a beach clean-up with the locals including school children and their teachers. After returning the beach temporarily back to its pristine state. It was time to finally explore the Mangroves. Our first job of the day was to help with the village beach clean-up. Joined by a crowd of school children, their teachers and locals, we helped remove truckloads of trash from the waterfront – making it look almost pristine again. Our Ambassadors had plenty of fun with the local kids trying to communicate with them in our non-existent Burmese and their poor English.
‘We spent the next few days exploring the mangrove forests with Aye Lwyn and Htoo Lwin of WIF as our guides. Mangoves are strange trees. Their roots sit above the mix of salt and fresh water, it is a surreal yet humbling experience to paddle amongst them,’ Paul said.
‘The trees look like they could uproot themselves and walk away at any minute. We also had the privilege of planting some mangroves under the expert eye of Lwyn and his team.’
The Myanmar mangroves lend itself well to SUP and marrying the trip with conservation will help not only secure the future of the mangroves but also the local population.’
In late 2017 or 2018 we plan on bringing a group to visit the Mangrove plantations of Thor Heyerdahl Climate Park. The trip will include planting mangroves, beach clean ups and coastal paddling. Very likely, Watertrek will have its own dedicated replanting zone within the park, and plan to raise awareness on the need to compensate carbon effects.