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ASIANetwork Funds Eckerd Visit to Indonesia for Mangrove Restoration Project

posted on 07/25/2012

This summer, a pilot mangrove restoration program funded by ASIANetwork helped Eckerd students Brett Thompson '12, Kate Farley '12 and Kaitlyn Lantz '14 travel to Semarang, Indonesia, where they combined their interests in Asia, environmental studies and service. Led by marine botanist Dr. Jeannine Lessmann and service-learning director Brian MacHarg, the group collaborated with an Indonesian toxicologist and three of his students to perform service-learning with local communities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) addressing mangrove depletion and sea level rise. Eckerd College was one of only two institutions to receive a $23,000 grant award from ASIANetwork for the pilot project.

Southeast Asia contains the largest extent of mangroves in the world - nearly 35% of the world's total - with the largest mangrove areas in Indonesia. "While those concerned with global warming and sea-level rise frequently call for the preservation of tropical rainforests and reducing carbon emissions, one of the most effective but overlooked solutions is the planting and preservation of coastal mangroves," said Dr. Lessmann, assistant professor of marine science and biology. "The dense, organic rich forests provide a natural defense against hurricanes and tsunamis and buffer to sea level rise, nursery grounds for fisheries, and a variety of natural resources of direct use to area populations."

Mangrove Restoration Project Indonesia

The intended outcomes of the project for Eckerd College were at least two-fold: to expand Eckerd's extensive January Winter Term study abroad and service-learning program opportunities, and to enhance the perspectives offered in Eckerd's popular Environmental Studies program. Each year, approximately 500 Eckerd students travel abroad. "While our involvement in certain parts of Asia such as China, Japan, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia has been extensive, we have made no inroads in Indonesia. It is our hope that this project will pave the way for future collaboration in Indonesia during our January terms," said Brian. "Furthermore, we hope that it will serve as a model for other American colleges and universities to pursue environmental service-learning in Asia," he continued. "Our team will be ready to assist other schools who might be interested in emulating this project."

Eckerd's combined American and Indonesian teams focused on three initiatives: planting mangroves near a fishing quarter on the edges of Semarang; creating an eco-tourism development model for use by a local mangrove NGO and university staff and faculty; and, helping a fishing community threatened with severe sea-level rise by restoring a bamboo bridge connected to the mainland and fortifying the breakwater which protects a Muslim pilgrimage site facing rising waters.

Mangrove Restoration Project Indonesia

About the Team
Dr. Jeannine Lessmann has spent the past 20 years studying mangrove and salt marsh ecology, restoration and conservation in Florida's Tampa Bay, Hawaii, the Yucatan/Central America and Australia. Most recently, she led a team of students to Malaysia to study mangroves for three weeks of study. This project enabled Professor Lessmann to build upon her research opportunities in Asia. Next spring, she will be teaching a Marine and Freshwater Botany class that will incorporate service learning in mangrove restoration in Tampa Bay.

Brian MacHarg '92 has been directing service-learning at Eckerd College for 11 years. His duties involve administering the service program as well as teaching courses in service-learning. Brian has led several student service groups abroad to Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Cuba, Peru, Panama, Iceland, Ukraine and others, with a number of them involving environmental service-learning. In January 2007 and 2010, he led a study abroad class to the Irrawaddy Delta region of Burma to work with an NGO that conserves mangroves.

Dr. Budi Widianarko of Soegijapranata Catholic University is a biologist and an expert in environmental toxicology. He is concerned with coastal biology issues in Indonesia and the coastal degradation that has been taking place near the Semarang coast for some time. His work has focused on coastal pollution as it relates to food safety and recognizes that mangrove preservation is germane to his area of specialty.

Brett Thompson '12, who majored in environmental studies with a concentration in global environment and justice and minored in visual arts, developed a unique academic concentration that focused on the interactive roles of international NGOs, service and environmental resource management in conservation and restoration. Eckerd has afforded Brett with service-learning opportunities across Africa: in Ethiopia, he coordinated the construction of rebuilding a decrepit water tower at a rural boarding school for blind children; in Rwanda, he worked for a secondary school to empower and educate women; and, in Morocco, he worked in the Atlas Mountains teaching sustainable agriculture at the Berber Cultural Center. As a junior, Brett spent seven months living and volunteering in Cape Town, South Africa, where he attended university and interned with a human rights organization focused on protecting and lobbying for the rights of asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants. During his senior year, he co-led an alternative spring break trip to Venezuela where he taught English as a second language in the favelas of Caracas. "My time abroad has helped me see the power that service-learning has to better the world," expressed Brett. "These varied experiences have contributed to my understanding of the important connection between service work and its power to enhance the surrounding environment."

Kate Farley '12, who majored in environmental studies and double minored in anthropology and political science, spent two January Winter Terms in Africa. During her freshman year, she learned how the culture of a Malawi village interacted with its environment. "The Littlefield Home orphanage uses solar energy and composting and is instituting a tree program that will generate an income for the community," said Kate. "My travels and studies have showed me that environmental sustainability and poverty are closely linked, particularly, how those who are most vulnerable frequently themselves live in environmentally at-risk areas as well." Kate is the service-learning fellow for the 2012-13 year.

Junior Kaitlyn Lantz '14 is double majoring in international relations and Spanish and double minoring in Chinese and French. She has traveled extensively throughout Latin America and has participated in service projects in Venezuela, Cuba, and Kenya. This past March, she led an alternative spring break trip to Puerto Rico, where they worked with the non-profit Plenitud on bio-construction, organic farming and other permaculture practices. Last summer, she participated in environmental service in Kenya, helping to introduce new agricultural methods, build a rainwater catchment system, plant trees hundreds of trees as well as various other projects. "I am interested in the effects of economic expansion on the environment," shares Kaitlyn. "Asia is of particular interest because of the rapid economic development occurring in the region and its inevitable effects on its surroundings." Acting on her interest in human rights, she recently returned from a spring-into-summer international law course taught by political science professor Bill Felice in The Hague, Netherlands. From the front row of the public viewing gallery, Kaitlyn and her classmates witnessed the International Criminal Court's sentencing of war criminal and ex-Liberian president Charles Taylor.

Professors Lessmann and MacHarg, along with the participating students, will share their findings at the ASIANetwork annual conference in Nashville in spring 2013.

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