GIVING A DAM
In October 2015, the Borneo Nature Foundation came to Green School and screened a hastily produced documentary titled ‘The Heart of the Haze’. Through this film we learned about the catastrophic fires that were devastating the forests of Central Kalimantan and the two-decade long history of deforestation in the region. We were shocked by how so little was known outside Borneo about the destruction of these precious eco-systems that are so important on a global scale as some of our planet’s most massive carbon sinks. So the following May our family ventured to Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan to learn more about the issues affecting forests and the local people who are working to protect them.
We went directly from the airport to a river bank outside the city and boarded a skinny shallow boat called a ‘klotok’. Buzzing past grassy reeds and narrow channels for 20 minutes in shallow water the colour of coca-cola, we arrived at the Borneo Nature Foundation research centre in the heart of the Sabangau Forest. After a brief orientation at the camp, a team of BNF researchers guided us through the swampy peatland forest. Slowly and silently we waded through the water when suddenly we heard the crackling of branches overhead. Looking up in a state of awe, we experienced our first sightings of wild orangutans. Speechless.
We then boarded another klotok and ventured up a narrow illegal canal. These waterways were used by locals who, for lack of better ways to earn a living for their families, resorted to harvesting timber and floating it out to market this way. One of our Dayak guides was once one of those illegal loggers, but at present he was leading us up this canal to proudly show us his new way of earning a living as a conservationist for the BNF team: by building dams.
We disembarked the klotok and after a few minutes of pushing our way on foot through low-lying scrub and bushes next to the canal, we came to a simple wood and earth dam. Cool rusty-red water rushed around the dam, spilling over the banks of the canal allowing water to seep back into an otherwise tinder-dry peat land. Our guides explained how these simple dams rehydrate deep and ancient peat lands, protecting them from the annual ravages of the fire season. Who wins from this dam-building effort?
1) A thriving population of endangered Bornean orangutans.
2) Millions in the region who would otherwise be suffering from smoke and haze during the fire season.
3) Every living creature on Earth, since protecting these rich carbon sinks is a mitigating action against climate change.
Something clicked for Ben and I as we sat on the sides of the dam cooling our feet in the flowing water. We realized that rehydrating this forest with these simple wood and earth dams protects vast tracts of trees as well as the irreplaceable peat below them, up to 20 meters deep in areas and thousands of years old. And here we were with a former illegal logger turned into a conservationist, protecting forests so precious to his indigenous Dayak roots. This was a project we wanted to get behind!
So in 2018, TRI is focusing its efforts on a campaign we call ‘Give a Dam’. We’re asking people to care about Indonesia’s forests and to understand why these ecosystems matter to them no matter where they live in the world. When we partner with businesses or schools that purchase a custom-designed branded bulk order of TRI products, we work in a profit margin equal to $400US, or the cost for the Borneo Nature Foundation to build, maintain and patrol a dam in the Sabangau Forest. In this way, not only will they get some beautiful and functional products for their school or company, they’ll be taking meaningful action on climate change.
Over the past 8 years, the BNF team has built 671 dams, but there’s hundreds more to install on the thousands of kilometers of illegal canals that criss-cross and dehydrate the peatland forests of Central Kalimantan. So this year TRI’s goal is to give 18 dams through profits from business to business partnerships. With your help, we hope to exceed that goal.
Join TRI in ‘giving a dam’!
TRI invites you, your school or business to join our TRIbe by ‘giving a dam’ to the Sabangau forest through the Borneo Nature Foundation. Please contact the TRI team to find out how: firstname.lastname@example.org