4 October 2013

Forest Restoration with the Orangutan Information Centre (OIC)

Observing free living Wild Orangutans in their Forest homes is a truly beautiful experience. There is a grace and humbleness to our gentle tree-dwellin' cousins, whose very existence provides a living window into our not-so-distant forest-bound past..

It's obvious why we are so fascinated by Orangutans! they are the only great Ape species, apart from Humans, surviving on this side of the world (South-East Asia).

Chimps, Bonobos and Gorillas  never left Africa!

Just look at the love this mother orangutan clearly has for her young.

Perhaps our fascination for Orangutans stems from a naturally anthropocentric world-view which makes perfect sense when you think about it... we share 96% of the same genetic code and have a recent ancestor just 10-14 million years ago when our evolutionary paths 'diverged'.

I suppose up until now in our evolutionary journey this human-centered world-view has been absolutely essential to our survival! However now it is clear we need to make the evolutionary leap from an anthropocentric or
human-centered world-view to a more holistic 'bio-centric' perspective that recognizes the inherent value of all living beings which form the living biosphere.

Sometimes I even feel like the focus on our red-haired cousins overshadows all the forgotten species of the rainforest who are often equally rare and endangered compared to the more charismatic mega-fauna which dominate conservation efforts (Tigers, Rhino, Elephant).

As an example, check out this awesome article 'Forgotten species: the overlooked Sumatran striped rabbit' describing one of the many rare and threatened species found in Sumatran rainforest.

What a funky little critter! I had no idea they existed until recently.

The beauty of Orangutan conservation is that if we protect and restore Orangutan habitat, we're automatically conserving a huge range of species which make up the super-organism of a Forest eco-system.. (not just animals.. also plants, fungi, bacteria, the whole web)

This is why we call Orangutans 'Flagship' species, they are ambassadors for the entire eco-system which form their habitat and can teach us humans so much about our own inter-dependency with ecological communities!

And now reporting from Indonesia...

First Meeting with the National Park and Restoration Field Staff

I've finally arrived in Sumatra for my 12 month AYAD assignment with the Orangutan Information Centre (OIC) and have just spent 2 weeks based inside the national park living with the Restoration team in the field cabin now surrounded by quikcly regenerating rainforest! (with primary forest just a few hundred meters away)

Life in the Forest - Top floor of the Restoration Hut - aka 'The Jungle Penthouse' 

The Team are successfully restoring 100's of hectares of degraded lands inside Gunung Leuser National Park which were illegally cleared by an Oil Palm company... Finally I get to see with my own eyes this amazing project in action.

As well as restoring forest ecology, the team have successfully re-established the authenticity of National Park boundaries. By working with local communities the Primary Forest within Gunung Leuser National Park is now a secured habitat for Orangutan and many other endangered species (including Elephants, Tigers and perhaps Sumatran Striped Rabbits). 
Below are some photo's taken from the OIC restoration site in Gunung Leuser National Park.. In the foreground is regenerating rainforest and in the background is the 'Primary' forest. 

Every morning we hear Orangutan, Gibbons, Hornbills and Argus Pheasants calling from the intact primary forest.. and not once have I heard the sound of chainsaws or bulldozers! Success! 

 BEFORE (2012 August)

AFTER (September 2013)

The Restoration Cabin 'Before and After' 

Panut Hadisiswoyo, Founder and Director of OIC planting a Tree with his son. Walking the Talk and educating the next generation on environmental stewardship.

As well as continuing to propagate plants in the nurseries and tree planting activities we are working together in improving the nursery systems and propagation methodologies as well as critical monitoring of biodiversity recovery. 

Thanks to a generous donation from school teachers in Sydney, Australia, we now have 5 high quality HD camera traps for biodiversity monitoring. 

Stay tuned for biodiversity reports and field updates!

The health of the regenerating forest is self-evident. Absolute abundance where Life creates the conditions that sustain more life! For me this is the real magic of Forest restoration, an evolved  mechanism for 'self-healing' the eco-system (or colonizing degraded sites such as volcanoes). 

In restoration ecology we are literally working 'with' nature!

Already species are beginning to flower and produce seeds, attracting seed-dispersing bird and mammal species which diversifies and speeds up the regeneration and habitat recovery process, it becomes a positive feedback loop and where nature does most of the work and the site is usually 'captured' (closed canopy) within a few years. 

The project gets a lot of visitors, locally and from around the world, who come to support the project and learn about Forest Restoration and Biodiversity Conservation.

Garry Sundin from Orangutan Odysseys bring tour groups to the site for Orangutan education and tree planting.. what a fantastic business model for eco-tourism! (a portion of the tour cost goes directly towards the OIC reforestation program).

That's it from me, I hope to update my blog regularly and share with you all stories from inside the national park.. including any new species from the camera traps survey! 

If you want to help the project and make a donation I'm working with Kelvin Davies from the Rainforest Information Centre in Australia on the 'Orangutan Revolution' project and we have started a crow-funding campaign for planting more trees in Sumatra!

CLICK HERE to DONATE for this Critical Habitat Restoration Program..

7 August 2013

1 Million Trees planted in Sumatra

Soon I will begin a volunteer project as a Forest Restoration Officer with the Orangutan Information Centre. These guys have recently planted their 1 MILLIONTH TREE in Northern Sumatra (Indonesia). I can't tell you how excited I am to join this pioneering restoration team for a year long assignment based in Gunung Leuser National Park.

The Leuser eco-system in Northern Sumatra is considered by many ecologists to be the most bio-diverse ecological community in South-East Asia. It is home to 105 recorded species of mammals, 382 species of birds, and at least 95 species of reptiles and amphibians. It is considered to be the last place in all of SE Asia of sufficient size and quality to maintain viable populations of Asia's rarest and most charismatic species including tigersorangutansrhinoselephants, and clouded leopards.

Recent decades have seen unprecedented industrial-scale deforestation of Sumatran forests (including inside national parks) and it is clear that urgent action is absolutely critical to preserving what remains of this incredibly rich bio-diversity hot-spot.

Organizations such as the Orangutan Information CentreSumatran Orangutan Society and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program are collaborating to ensure the rarest great ape species in South-East Asia does not go extinct, along with their super bio-diverse rainforest eco-systems.

Check out this video below to see the inspirational work of the Orangutan Information Centre.

On the 19th of August it will be 'WORLD ORANGUTAN DAY'. This is a positive campaign and global collaboration of conservation NGO's working to bring much needed attention and awareness to the crises facing these beautiful red apes and their forest habitat. 

If you want to support this work, please make a Donation directly to the Orangutan Information Centre who are working on the ground in Sumatra within communities adjacent to Gunung Leuser National park to save the critically endangered Sumatran Orangutan.

To raise further awareness of this event you can also take a photo of yourself and your family holding a card that says "I LOVE Orangutans!" and share it on the official facebook page for World Orangutan Day! 

Below is a poster my partner and I made to contribute towards this positive campaign.

Please feel free to share around your networks.

For Environmental Educators or families who want to introduce their children to positive Orangutan conservation projects check out the 'SAVE ARMSTRONG' campaign by the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS). 

This video clip below illustrates the challenges faced by "Armstrong the Orangutan" (and yes, Orangutans do have very strong arms!) and the work being done to Restore a Forest eco-system for Orangutan habitat which is currently being implemented by the Orangutan Information Centre in Northern Sumatra.


And here is the latest 'Theatrical Trailer' for the documentary film, 
'Rise of the Eco-Warriors', about a conservation and community development project I worked on last year in West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

The film, produced by Virgo Productions, is set to be released in March 2014 in conjunction with a series of international film festivals and environmental education initiatives in schools.

It is my hope that this film can inspire a new wave of young eco-activists and positive change agents to get involved and support the many projects happening in Indonesian and globally aimed at conservation and community development.

And finally Here is a quote by Paul Hawken that articulates beautifully my own seemingly contradictory feelings of massive inspiration for the movement of people working to create change on our planet, despite harboring a very real sense of distress towards our current planetary predicament with this seemingly unstoppable trajectory of ecological destruction... *takes a deeeeeep breath*

"When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my

 answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what 

is happening on earth and aren't pessimistic, you don't understand 

data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this 

earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren't optimistic, you 

haven't got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are 

ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and 

incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, 

justice, and beauty to this world." 

- Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest

Check out this incredible video clip where Paul Hawken explains the movement that is underway right now all around the world, which he says is 'humanities immune response to heal the world'. deep!

That's it for me,

as they say...

'The Best time to Plant a Tree is 20 years ago.... 
...the second best time is NOW' 

18 July 2013

5 Year Anniversary Blog


I just discovered that our planet has made it's way around the sun 5 times since I started this Blog!!!

A lot has happened since then and I've been fortunate enough to make friends with a whole bunch of interesting characters from all over the world, whilst experiencing a heap of breathtaking ecological phenomena and all the while being able to keep a solid connection with my family back in Australia.

It has been fascinating to reflect upon the last 5 years... I don't blog a lot these days but I enjoy the art of writing, and love the capability of the internet to connect us to stories and events which are all too often ignored by mainstream media. (for example my good friend Conor Ashleigh, the digital Storyteller)

Before we have a look at some of the older blog posts I wanted to share a few moments over the past few years that I never got around to blogging about...

   TEDxYouth Brisbane 2011
© 2011 Mark Lobo Photography 

Before heading back to West Kalimantan in 2011 I was invited to speak at TEDxYouth in Brisbane, like most people with a pulse... I really didn't enjoy public speaking in high school, but there's definitely a buzz to this experience when you confront your nerves and talk about an issue you are passionate about... 'Deforestation...'Think Globally - Act Locally'

I took this photo above in Danau Sentarum National Park, interior West Kalimantan,
on a field visit with 'Canopy Indonesian' and local fire fighting team (August 2012).
(incredibly, this man was not wearing shoes!)

There has been a lot of international media attention focused on Indonesian forest fires this year, coming from Sumatra and Borneo, as the big trans-national palm oil companies continue to set fire to the last great swathes of rainforest in South-East Asia.

Over the past few years I've connected with a number of communities living in this region who are fiercely resisting and defending their ancestral lands, these are stories that, unfortunately, both mainstream media and environmental NGO's are not giving much coverage towards.

Wollumbin (Mt Warning)

I never explained the original name of this blog 'Caldera Creations'. A Caldera is the ancient rim of an extinct volcano, like the Wollumbin Caldera not far from where I grew up in Northern NSW.

For me it represents the story I was told as child, that I was found up in the rainforest and my family took me as an orphan to work for cheap labor in their fruit tree nursery ... It also represents the ancient living story of regeneration; death and renewal and how forces of destruction contain the seeds of abundance (this once devastated and lifeless volcanic landscape is now in Australia's top 3 biodiversity hot-spots).

It also represent a personal story. When I was 21 years old I climbed this ancient caldera with a good mate and took some magic mushrooms as Earth rotated to reveal the first rays of sunlight on the Australian continent.

disclaimer: I do not condone the use of magic mushrooms in the presence of hooligans or as a party drug to escape from your current reality... be very clear on your intent

It was literally as if I had been dreaming in black and white my entire life and had never really ever watched the sunrise before... and had never heard the colourful sound of leaves photosynthesizing or the deeper ecological implications of the ancient bird ritual known to biologists as 'morning chorus'.

The entire experience is impossible to put into words, but from that moment on my connection to the land would never be the same again...

I developed a particular fascination with rainforest communities and was captivated by this emerging branch of ecology known as 'ecological restoration' where humans work to assist the natural regenerative capabilities of an Eco-system.

I knew immediately (yes even whilst I was still tripping) that I had to return to my families nursery and live and learn more from the community that I grew up in. Although I grew up in this environment, i had never really appreciated how awesome it was until now.

I went on to study conservation and land management, got into mountain biking with my dad and family friends, started to learn about Permaculture and organic gardening and helped start a local climate action group.

After spending about a year working on my families fruit tree nursery and training up in long distance cycling, I hatched a plan to go on an epic cycling adventure.. and so decided to start a Blog to share the journey now more then 5 years ago.

So here are a few blog posts from the early years that I found fascinating to read and reflect upon.

Cycling Journey (January 2008)

My first blog post! Crazy that the original intention was to cycle to Borneo (perhaps my knowledge of geography back then was still a little under-developed).

The obsession with Borneo began in high school when I watched a documentary, Blowpipes and Bulldozers, about the indigenous peoples of Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo) and how their ancestral lands are being destroyed by unscrupulous trans-national logging and palm oil companies.

And now it has now come full circle, I've been involved with a documentary, Rise of the Eco-Warrior, about young people traveling to Borneo in an effort to collaborate with the local Dayak people and raise awareness about the ongoing deforestation crisis in Indonesia.

is my blog about my first trip to Borneo with my friend Tony Allison.

Crossing the Border Ranges (May 2008)

And I'm off!!! the beginning of a 2000km solo cycling Journey from my home in Northern NSW up through central QLD to the wet-tropics in Far-North QLD where I would make friends with some truly inspiring people in various conservation and environmental fields. I spent a year in the bush north of Carwell managing my first solo ecological restoration project integrating permaculture and agro-forestry principles.

 Mahogany Glider and Friends 2009 

During my time up North I made friends with folk who were working to protect some of Australia's most rare and threatened fauna, from Tree Kangaroos to Southern Cassowaries, I 'baby-sat' an endangered Mahogany Glider named Stony (to our left here), Planted trees (guerrilla style) along the highway with an 83 year old seasoned Eco-Warrior named Margaret Thorsborne.

Recently I heard from my friend Daryl Dickson, environmental artist and step-mother of Stoney, who shared a video about the latest efforts to save these endangered gliders. Here it is below...'Every Tree Counts'


Double-eyed Fig Parrot

And finally the beginnings of my obsession with the Fig Parrots!!!

I vividly remember looking into the eyes of these gorgeous little fig parrots as they gleefully nibbled away on their fig seed breakfast.

I've come to call these experiences 'David Attenborough Moments' ... and every now and then my camera was on hand to photograph and share the experience...

Which has become the inspiration for my next blog..  'Top 10 'David Attenborough Moments'

More updates coming up on 'Permablitz Jogja' urban agriculture collective and a forest restoration project I will begin next month in Northern Sumatra with the Orangutan Information Centre.

4 February 2013

Long beans in a Long house

In July 2012 I returned for the 3rd time to the Dayak community of 'Ensaid Panjang' in West Kalimantan.

30 families living under the same roof, this village is centered around a traditional 120 meter Longhouse.

Yes, that's right... a house that is longer then a football field with just one 18'' inch communal TV.

This time around we arrived with a much smaller crew; Austrian friend, Sophie (Aus-tri-an not Aust-rali-an) who had just finished 4 months in Jogja doing an art residency project at Sewon Artspace... and Sumatran man named Tony who is now based in Jogja.

This was the community we had visited a year earlier when the bridge suddenly collapsed and magically and perhaps mystically not a single Dayak child was injured. (a few wet their pants with extreme laughter though).

Watch below to see the video that gave endless hours of laughter to the people of this community.

This visit had an entirely different energy, largely due to the smaller size and thus more intimate experience. 

We were able to really connect a lot deeper with the local people on a day-to-day level whilst they went about their traditional weaving, basket and jewelry making with the kids endlessly playing all kinds of shenanigans from dusk until dawn. 

Their traditional form of weaving is now being revived in many Dayak communities as an international market has been developed by one of our NGO partners 'The Kobus Foundation' to connect suppliers with buyers and give local people an alternative income to the usual rubber tapping or palm oil.

One of the local men showing us the bark they use to make traditional clothing out of. 

Village chief, Pak Sambai, takes us on a survey of their forest through the mixed agro-forestry rubber plantations. He updated us on their situation and showed the recent attempted invasion by palm oil companies trying to illegally and aggressively develop their land.

A local woman bringing in the bountiful harvest of a very common bean grown throughout Indonesia, 'Kacang panjang' or 'Long bean'.

The kids have all grown up so much in the one year since I first met them. I am embarrassed that they all remember my name but I couldn't recall a single child's name. I do, however, remember vividly each of their unique smiles and playful personalities .

There was an obvious and immediate lighter energy among the local people then during our last visit. We soon discovered this was because they were on the cusp of formalizing an historic agreement between the neighboring village for the preservation of their remaining forested lands, which means no more palm oil.

Below is a map from our Earthwatchers program which shows a remnant patch of forest, very close to Ensaid Panjang, that was recently converted to palm oil in a matter of months.

BEFORE (note the dark green forest cover).

AFTER (note the linear rows of oil palm).

So now this super bio-diverse forest is protected and the Dayak people have plans to build a fruit tree and reforestation nursery which can enable them to start cultivating sugar palm around the perimeter of the forest.

'Mimi' the youngest daughter of Pak Sambai, the village head.

We say goodbye to our Dayak friends and families as the crew from 'Canopy Indonesia' pick us up on route to 'The Lakes' a remote National Park called locally 'Danau Sentarum' where wild Orangutan still roam the forests.

This epic journey will takes us up to the headwaters of the Kapuas River, Indonesia's largest river system, just a hope skip and a jump from Sarawak, Malaysia.

There has been reports of forest fires and it's the dry season, with the lakes draining rapidly and conditions ripe for the surrounding peat forest to go up in smoke...

to be continued...

29 January 2013

Permaculture in Indonesia

Indonesian: Jadi, aku sudah kembali di Indonesia... 
English: So, I am back Indonesia... 

I've returned to Yogyakarta, the bustling student and artists city in Central Java, where I will be learning bahasa Indonesian and tapping into the local Permaculture community.

Java is an island covered in active volcanoes, rice fields and 140 million Indonesian people.

Photo by Tony Allison on our walk up Merapi, an active Volcano within site of Yogyakarta.

Sometimes I can't help but feel that introducing the concept of Permaculture to the people in Indonesian is like trying to teach the Chinese business skills or the Irish how to drink Guinness...

The essence of Permaculture (from the root words 'Permanent Culture') is based on designing living systems based on the life-sustaining patterns found in nature. A big part of this is re-localizing our agriculture systems and working to rebuild soil fertility and diversity in your own backyards and local communities.

It's not just organic food production, Permaculture can cover anything from sustainable building design, developing economic systems that enhance social capital or the facilitation of natural eco-system regeneration.

So if you explore many of the 18,000 islands across the Indonesian archipelago, from the inner suburbs of Yogyakarta to the remote villages of West Kalimantan, you are basically walking through an amazing and diverse food forest with chickens, goats and pigs rummaging about in the under-story.

The trees in these systems don't just provide oxygen, shade or aesthetic appeal but energy available for the human body, plant proteins, anti-oxidants and the deliciously sweet nature of simple carbohydrates.

A canopy of Mango, Jakfruit, Rambutan, Langsat, Longon, Jambu, Coconut... with an under-story of Bananas, Papaya and Cassava .. even in the middle of the city most of the trees will be edible and the majority of fresh produce available will be grown within 100km.

from left to right; Mango, Salak, Mangosteen, Passionfruit

For someone like myself who loves to create abundant and edible landscapes, exploring this land leaves me continually in awe and excitement as I spot the various fruits coming into season and sample fruits such as Mangosteen, Salak or Langsat that just will not grow in the 'sometimes-freezing' sub-tropical Australia.

The Rambutan fruit is now in season, selling for as little as 30 cents a kilogram

A few months back I did my first PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate) in Bali with world-renowned Australian Permaculture teacher Robyn Francis. It was a 13 day intensive hands-on training course in a village 20 minutes south of  Ubud where the 'Taman Petanu Eco-Neighborhood' is being created.

Such a diverse and inspiring group of people doing all kinds of work across the Indonesian Archipelago, from local Balinese farmers to urban jungle cats applying rooftop gardens in Jakarta to forestry and agricultural professionals working in West Papua.

Photo by Gogon Journey

Immersing myself in this PDC course has re-inspired my permie-roots, and the connections formed equally as valuable and inspiring as the training itself.

A couple of the younger crew helping run the course, Krishna and Tantra, grew up in Yogyakarta where their father, Pak Iskander, established an educational farm based on Permaculture principles called the 'Bumi Langit' Institute (Bumi is Earth and Langit is Sky in Bahasa Indonesian).

So on the weekend I traveled up there with some friends from Jogja; Salas, Dalih, Astrid and Bhumy (Astrids' 4 year old son) to catch up with Krishna and finally explore his families Permaculture farm.

Astrid and Dali are feature writers for 'Indonesian Travel Bloggers' by far Indonesia's best collection of bilingual blogs on life and travels across the Indonesia archipelago. Check'em out!

Bumi Langit It's located about an hour motorbike ride out of Jogja, up in the lush green hills where the Earth touches the Sky.

It's an incredibly beautiful place containing abundant examples of permaculture in practice where school children and local farmers alike come learn and experiment with different ways to design and implement sustainable food production systems.

Krishna giving us a tour of the no-dig garden section.

Although most Indonesian farmers are expert food producers, the Green Revolution (Industrial Agriculture pushed by big Agri-business transnational companies such as Monsanto) has seen a massive decrease in soil sustainability and an increases in production costs related to use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, expensive machinery and fossil fuels.

Permaculture as a design science, is playing a critical role in helping communities find long-term solutions to food security and self-reliance by integrating holistic and ecological design into the already existing wisdom being applied by traditional subsistence cultures who can still be found across much of south east Asia.

A lot of the inspiration for Permaculture comes from observations made in these traditional societies.

Collecting manure from farm animals, they make Bio-Gas from the methane that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere with a potency 23 times higher then Carbon Dioxide. 

Krishna showing Bhumy the friendly goats. From one kid to another.

Cows, Ducks, Geese, Goats, Chickens, Humans, Insects.... integrated animal systems

Bhumy checking out the Amaranth stash, an ancient grain that comes from the mountains of south America and has  one of the highest protein contents of any seed on the planet.

We end up staying all day and watching sunset over south-central Java. Plans are being hatched to start a PermaBlitz program in Yogyakarta, greening the city and reconnecting people to their food and the Earth and each other.

Sounds like a plan!

We finish our adventure with a delicious meal cooked by Astrid and Dalih made from Bumi Langit produce.

Enak banget!!! (really yummy!!)

I'll be blogging a lot more now, inspired by the Indonesian Travel Bloggers and so I can keep friends and family around the world updated on adventures in Indonesia.

Lots of people have also been asking about the situation in Kalimantan, I'll update in a blog post really soon.

Sampai jumpa lagi! (See you later!)