At the end of September, the documentary Sunset over the Selungo was released. It beautifully portrays the culture of a community belonging to the Penan tribe, living in a very remote part of the remaining rainforest of Sarawak.
Sarawak, one of the Malaysian States in Northern Borneo, Southeast Asia. (Thanks Mongabay for the image….and for all of my tropical forest news!)
Though I’ve spent some time in Sarawak over the last 6 years, and so learnt a bit about the State’s many different tribal groups and their unique cultures, I was mesmerized when I watched this film last night. You get a privileged insight into just how skillfully these people live off the riches of the rainforest.
Then in the last few minutes of the documentary, the bomb drops/chainsaw starts. After cleverly drawing you in to the sustainable romance of the Penan’s forest existence, the Producer/Director extraordinaire (Ross Harrison) hits you with the hard-line campaign behind his piece: deforestation. Illegal and legal loggers are trying to move into the area, and have been for some time, despite its remoteness and importance to local and global communities.
Unfortunately, this is no new story for forest-based communities. A friend of mine, Dr Fran Lambrick, had the premier of her documentary, I am Chut Wutty, last month also. She tells the story of the incredibly brave Cambodian campaigner, Chut Wutty, who tried to prevent the logging and destruction of the forests in his country that many communities rely on for sustainable rubber tapping and a range of other forest products and services. He was killed. Probably under the direction of his own Government.
Before Chut Wutty died, he made a great noise about the injustice and destruction he saw, and generated action and support that continues in his absence. The Penan people in Ross’ film have created a voice for themselves too, and are working to create the Penan Peace Park. If you manage to watch the film and feel inspired to help their campaign, you can donate to it here.
For anyone who wants a relatively concise introduction to the Peat Spotter project I’ve been working on for the last year with Rezatec, funded by the European Space Agency, we’ve just published a promo video on YouTube. I’ll aim to write a bit more about it soon for those avid peat spotters out there. For now, prizes for those that spot my precious clubbed thumb in action.
An area in Central Kalimantan where we trialled some of the equipment and protocols that we’ll use to spot peat, in the ‘field’. Here we have a typical Southeast Asian scene of drained peat, with oil palms planted in the fore- and background, and a degrading fragment of forest off in the distance. Whether that patch of trees can actually be called a forest is another thing.
After one near-missed flight (trying to correct the proof in time for the deadline in an airport flying between islands whilst peat spotting in Indonesia), several near sleepless nights (correcting previous drafts) and three attempts to download free-trial software (for last minute figure alterations whilst >1000 miles away from a computer that had the software on)….I was relieved to have my first paper published earlier this year. And excited to have Cole associated, in print, with tropical forests, at long last. The paper describes some research I did as part of my PhD, exploring the rates of tropical forest recovery after different disturbance events in the past. Many a fossil pollen diagram was trawled to collect the data and we found some interesting results of relevance to the debate on tropical forest resilience.
Back in June, I had the privilege of writing a post on this research and our findings for the Kew Science Blog and to make a cameo appearance on Phil Martin’s Ecology for a crowded planet website, so if you’d like to read more about the work, have a click (one’s enough – bit of a cut-and-paste job!). Soon after, to my delight, the great Professor Corey Bradshaw wrote a bit about the research on his ConservationBytes blog.
As a first exploration of the vast data stored in published palaeoecological studies of tropical forest ecosystems, I was pleased with the insights I gleaned, but there’s a lot more potential locked up in these fossil pollen datasets. I’ve got a long list of questions ready to start researching….as soon as a philanthropist with a tropical forest leaning gets word of the opportunity!