The Indonesian Peat Prize

In case you missed the build-up and outcome of the Indonesian Peat Prize, here’s a recap on it that was published last week in Peatlands International, written by Lydia Cole. 

After much anticipation, on World Wetlands Day in February of this year, the winning team of the Indonesian Peat Prize was revealed.  With two years from launch to completion, spanning a period of new and recurring outbreaks of fire in the country, controversial instructions on the use of peatland concessions and growing international pressure to divest funds from the palm oil industry, this announcement is much welcomed.  But what is the Indonesian Peat Prize?  Who are the winners?  And importantly, how might it contribute to tropical peatland conservation?

An area of deforested, drained and burnt peatland, converted into smallholder agriculture, within a Biodiversity Concession, Central Kalimantan province. Mapping of these activities, and the depth of peat on which they are happening, will assist with planning more responsible landscape management.

What is the Indonesian Peat Prize?

After the devastating peat fires of 2015, creating a toxic haze that covered parts of Southeast Asia for months, the spotlight was on Indonesia to address the cause of the burning.  Unsustainable land use in peatland areas was the primary offender, whether resulting from activities of industrial-scale oil palm and pulp and paper companies, smallholders, or a mixture of both.  Who exactly is to blame varies by place and perspective; further discussion of which will be left for another day!  In order to address this international disaster and restore the burnt landscapes, the Indonesian Government established the Peatland Restoration Agency, or BRG, in January of 2016.

Before the BRG could address the challenge of understanding the distribution of peatland (mis)uses and consider where to restore the ecosystem, there was a need to know where the peat actually is, and crucially, how deep it is.  There was already a map of peatland distribution in Indonesia: Wetlands International compiled one in 2004 and the Ministry of Agriculture in 2011, which can be accessed through the Global Forest Watch platform.  However, these maps offer a very coarse spatial resolution and an even coarser indication of how thick the peat is.  Since their production, earth observation and ground-based technologies have improved dramatically, making higher resolution mapping more feasible.

Cue the Indonesian Peat Prize.  The David and Lucile Packard Foundation provided one million USD to the Indonesian Government’s Geospatial Information Agency (BIG) with which to launch an international competition with the primary goal of developing a “fast, accurate and cost-effective way to map Indonesia’s vast tropical peatlands”.  The open competition had been bubbling away since February 2016, with a selection of finalists being put through their paces over the last six months.  But there could only be one winner!

And the winner is ….

The winning team is an international collaboration of scientists (mostly men!), coming from Indonesia, Germany and the Netherlands.  The aptly named International Peat Mapping Team (IPMT) comprises members from Indonesia’s Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT), South Sumatra province’s Sriwijaya University, and three German institutions: Greifswald University, the Remote Sensing Solutions GmbH (RSS) and Airbus DS Geo.  They convinced the judges of their ability to create a prototype method for surveying the country’s peatlands, with their proposed “multistage” solution: a cost-effective, versatile combination of satellite remote sensing, airborne LiDAR and ground-based measurements.  Though this group was awarded the prize, other finalists proposed using similar techniques (with the possibility of lower costs) which may also form part of the solution as the exercise unfolds.

A new oil palm plantation under development, at the edge of a protected peatland (with remnant peat swamp forest visible in the background). How far into the peat dome the plantation extends, and thus the extent of impact, will be measurable using the new mapping techniques.

How might the prize help peat?

In theory, the map will create a universal, repeatable method for mapping peatlands across Indonesia (and potentially the world).  Having One Map from which land covers can be defined and land uses observed and allocated will enable a greater transparency in local and national government decision-making.  It may also help to reduce the regular conflict encountered when land management decisions are made without complete information on land use and tenure.

In practice however, a lot of money has been spent on a mapping exercise that will only mean anything if there is money to spend on the management exercise to accompany it.  The conservation challenge on the ground is likely less to do with knowing the exact depth of a peat substrate and more to do with the depth of understanding of the people living there of how important maintaining a wet peatland is; coupled with the depth of understanding of the challenges and aspirations of those people by the institutions proposing sustainable management policies.  The cost of understanding the extent of the challenge, of figuring out how to restore such a transformed landscape and of enforcing the variety of potential policy solutions must not be underestimated.

Nazir Foead, the Head of the BRG, tasked with one of the most challenging jobs in the world, is “optimistic that the agency will complete the restoration program [of over 2 million hectares] by 2020“.  To put this into perspective, the UK has committed to having two million hectares of restored or sustainably managed peatlands by 2040, and that will likely be a struggle despite the growing funds available, the restoration expertise sourced from across the northern hemisphere and the level of national support (in the most part).  But the political commitment and transparency shown by Indonesia is admirable, and strongly welcomed at this critical point in the story of tropical peatlands.

Congratulations to the winners; good luck to the BRG.  Your work is just beginning!

Got any Snippets to share on peatlands?

The International Peatland Society – the organisation dedicated to developing and promoting methods in the responsible management and wise use of peatlands and peat – is always on the look-out for nuggets of news on peatlands.

If you’ve just published a peaty paper, had an exciting fieldwork experience, written a report, or recently got stuck in a bog, the IPS would like to hear about it and send it out to the international peatland community via their monthly Peatland Snippets.  Please send any relevant pieces (5 to 10 lines) to susann.warnecke (at) peatlands.org by the 20th of the month.

There’s space for longer articles too, in the IPS’s Peatlands International magazine, which is published several times per year.  Susann would love to hear from you if you’re interested in submitting a piece.  Both publications are free to IPS members, but submissions are invited from non-members also….though why not join?  More information on membership rates and privileges can be found here.

And excitingly, this year is the Society’s 50th year anniversary – to be celebrated aboard a boat in the Rotterdam riviera!  If you’d like to join the Jubilee Symposium from 11th to 13th September, tickets can be bought here.

The party boat!

Calling all peaty Research Students & Young Professionals in need of $….

The Allan Robertson Grants for 2018 are now open!  (Closing date is 31st January.)

Allan Robertson

The Grant, administered by the International Peatland Society, was first launched in 2015 in memory of Allan Robertson, First Honorary President of the IPS.  It is awarded to research students carrying out practical work or research, or young professionals in the early stages of their career involved in peatland management or the peat industry.

This year, there will be approximately 8 grants of €500 available.  The deadline for applications is 31st January.  The application form, more details and information on previous winners (including some esteemed members of this group!) can be found here.

Grant recipients are normally under the age of 30. Undergraduates are ineligible. The grants can be used, for instance, for project work, for equipment, or for travelling.

Successful applicants must agree to provide a report on their project or work that will be published in the IPS magazine Peatlands International and/or give a presentation of it at an international IPS event at the latest 12 months after the grant funding has been paid to them. Payment will be made by bank transfer according to receipts.

The Executive Board of the IPS will decide on the winners in April and announce the lucky ones at the Annual Assembly in Rotterdam in September (no need to be present).

Exciting peaty post doc opportunity

Dr Katy Roucoux and team (members of the UK TPWG) at the University of St. Andrews are advertising a post doc position to work on the following project:

Valuing intact tropical peatlands’: a project that aims to improve our understanding the socio-cultural and economic value of peatlands in Amazonia

The Research Fellow will have an opportunity to work with an established interdisciplinary team based in the School of Geography and Sustainable Development at the University of St Andrews, UK, and colleagues at the Instituto de Investigationes de la Amazonia Peruana (IIAP), Iquitos, Peru. Please follow the link above for more details, or email Katy (khr@st-andrews.ac.uk) for more information if required.

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The new offices at St Andrews do have a roof!

 

Peat @ the EGU

Several of the UK TPWG members attended the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly in Vienna last week, and Sarah Cook has kindly provided a brief summary of this exciting, and pleasingly peaty event.

Last month I attended the European Geosciences Union in Vienna, Austria. The conference was a buzz of scientific minds with over 14,000 participants in attendance from over 107 different countries! This was my first time at the EGU, which was both exiting but also overwhelming at times, with over 649 sessions running throughout the week, 4,000+ talks and 11,000+ posters, deciding how to spend each day was a challenge in itself! Luckily, the EGU app came in really handy allowing me to create my own personalized timetable, whilst helping reduce paper consumption. Furthermore, the venue came stock pilled with coffee outlets and even its own beer garden to ensure a much needed recharge between sessions.

Still “Welcome” in Europe!

One of my favorite sessions was ‘Peatlands and wetlands in the tropics and beyond’ co-conveyed by our very own Ian Lawson. The session attracted significant interest and covered topics from greenhouse gas emissions and eco-hydrology to the responsible management of tropical peatlands. It was great to see so much enthusiasm for tropical peat research from all breadths of the scientific community. I was also fortunate enough to present a poster on my PhD research, on the Friday afternoon, and had some great feedback and comments.

A new presentation format, which I had never come across before, was PICO’s (Presenting Interactive Content). This gave speakers a 2-minute opportunity to advertise their research, after which people could visit their PICO stand to ask more questions and interact with the slides further. The venue was also host to outreach talks and debates including ‘Women in geoscience’ and ‘Is open science the way to go?’ However, while the conference offered a non-stop array of sessions to attend I did try to see more than just the conference center and explore the beautiful city. All in all I had a great first experience at the EGU and can’t wait to go back again!

 

 

 

 

 

Protecting Peru’s peatlands

In an article published this month in the journal Conservation Biology members of the UKTPWG and colleagues identify and map threats to the recently-described intact peatlands of the Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin in north-east Peru. They highlight the need to protect these peatlands to avoid future degradation, and identify several key pathways for conservation.

The Mauritia flexuosa palm at the site of Quistococha

The authors found that, in their case study area, the main threat to peatland health is the expansion of commercial agriculture linked to the development of new transport infrastructure, which makes it easier for companies to access remote areas.

Although some of the peatlands in the PMFB were found to fall within existing legally protected areas such as national parks, this protection is patchy, often weak, and not focused on protecting the most carbon-rich areas.

The article argues that conservation efforts should be focused in the first instance on the most carbon-rich peatlands, such as those north of the Marañón which currently lie entirely outside of the legally protected areas.

The paper’s authors are based in the School of Geography and Sustainable Development at the University of St Andrews (Roucoux, Lawson), the University of Leeds (Baker), University of Edinburgh (Mitchard), University of Reading (Kelly), Instituto de Investigacion de la Amazonía Peruana (del Castillo Torres, Honorio Coronado), Carnegie Institution for Science, Washington DC (Draper), Arizona State University (Lahteenoja), George Mason University (Gilmore), and the Field Museum, Chicago (Vriesendorp).

Link to the accepted manuscript: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cobi.12925/full

An Interdisciplinary Project: Fish and the Importance of Fish(ing) to Human Communities in Sabangau, Indonesia

In this fortnight’s blog-post, Sara Thornton, a member of the UK TPWG and PhD student at the University of Leicester, gives us the low-down on her doctoral research, looking at fish diversity and much more, in the Sabangau peatlands of Indonesian Borneo.  Her important work is also captured by a set of beautiful photographs that she took whilst on fieldwork (see the press release images).

A family of fishers checking their catch on the Sabangau River. Photo by Sara Thornton

A family of fishers checking their catch on the Sabangau River. Photo by Sara Thornton

My PhD takes an interdisciplinary approach to understand the socio-ecological system of the Sabangau, Indonesian Borneo. In particular, I focus on the relationships between human fishing communities, nonhuman fish communities and other nonhuman aspects of the ecosystem (including abiotic aspects and spiritual nonhuman beings) and how these relationships lead to certain emergent properties (e.g. resilience). I also consider human perceptions of environmental change, and how fire, dams, human population growth and fishing diversification/intensification impact fishing and human livelihoods. To do this, I used the following methods:

  1. Surveys of fish communities and water quality in the Sabangau River and the Sabangau Forest
  2. Questionnaires, interviews and focus groups in two local communities: Kereng Bangkirai (situated near to the intact Sabangau peat-swamp forest) and Taruna Jaya (situated in an area of severely degraded peatland)
An unedited photo showing fishermen fishing on the Sabangau River during the catastrophic haze from forest and peatland fires in 2015. Photo by Sara Thornton

An unedited photo showing fishermen fishing on the Sabangau River during the haze from the forest and peatland fires in 2015. Photo by Sara Thornton.

Some notable results included:

  • A final fish species list of 54 species! Making Sabangau a notable area for peat-swamp forest fish diversity
With my research assistants, we trapped over 60,000 fish over a year of monthly fish surveys. Here one assistant measures the Standard Length of a Belontia hasselti. Photo by Sara Thorn

With my research assistants, we trapped over 60,000 fish over a year of monthly surveys. Here one assistant measures the Standard Length of a Belontia hasselti

  • With the water quality data (e.g. pH, water temperature, dissolved oxygen levels) I am able to recommend improvements for future fish sampling
  • The fish and water quality data provides a baseline for future monitoring
  • Fish was considered in both locations to be the most important nonhuman forest species to people’s lives. This is not surprising considering the economic importance that fish has locally, and that it is one of the main sources of protein:
    • I found the average annual fish consumption in Sabangau is nearly three times the global average!
Learning to make a traditional fish trap (Dudin on left and Sara on right), photo by Julie Lasne

Learning to make a traditional wire trap, tampirai, used for the fish surveys (Dudin on left and Sara on right). Photo by Julie Lasne.

  • The human communities expressed important cultural values, aesthetic and experiential values when discussing many of the nonhuman forest species (e.g. fish, orangutans, gibbons, hornbills). There were strong spiritual beliefs related to fish and the river in the Sabangau area
    • This included taboos related to eating or cooking certain fish species, the presence of various river and forest spiritual beings and the use of offerings to improve fish catches
    • These cultural perspectives are vital to include in considerations of values associated with ecosystems and biodiversity
    • Spiritual beliefs can play an important role in determining how some people in Sabangau relate to the river, to fish and thereby the ‘environment’

Lastly, while fish may not be the most charismatic of peat-swamp forest species like great-apes or felids, they provide one of the clearest faunal links between people, livelihoods and their ‘environment’ in the Sabangau. In areas with high dependence on fish for livelihoods, fish research and conservation projects could be a great opportunity to increase the relevance of environmental research to local communities and thereby potentially increasing local support for conservation projects.

The new TOC-loss-ometer!

This week, Sarah Cook, a member of the UK TPWG and PhD student at the University of Leicester, published an exciting paper documenting a new, low cost and easy-to-use methodology for measuring DOC losses from tropical peatlands.  Here she describes this important work.

My research is focused on investigating fluvial organic carbon (TOC) losses from tropical peatland oil palm plantations, within Southeast Asia. However, when I first started developing my research methodology I found limited guidance for analysing tropical TOC water samples. Tropical work is often undertaken in remote field sites with limited on-site laboratory facilities (if any), with any flat stable surface (i.e. the dinner table, car boot and concrete floors) quickly becoming a state of the art workbench. In addition, temperature also plays a significant role, with the hot sticky heat quickly degrading anything remotely organic. In my case this could mean the breakdown, and loss, of significant proportions of organic carbon from my water samples. This also meant the need to ship large, heavy and expensive boxes of samples back to the UK for analysis on specialised analytical equipment.

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Collection of fluvial organic carbon from an oil palm plantation drainage channel.

This prompted us to develop better guidance for tropical researchers for TOC analysis, and lead to the publication of a water storage paper (https://doi.org/10.19189/MaP.2016.OMB.249) in 2016 and a recent paper in Water Research (February, 2017; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.watres.2017.02.059). In this most recent paper we investigated the suitability of UV-visible spectrometry to determine dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations in tropical water samples, building on an original methodology developed by (Carter et al.2012; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.watres.2012.05.021) on temperate peat. Overall UV-visible spectroscopy (using both a single and two-wavelength approach) was able to accurately predict tropical DOC concentrations. This offers research groups working in remote field locations the ability to rapidly analyse water samples post-collection, negating the need to store degradable samples for lengthy periods of time, helping improve spatial and temporal DOC measurements. In addition, the equipment required for this analysis can be set up at a field base, valuable for researchers in remote locations with limited access to specialised (and often expensive) analytical equipment. This in turn can help reduce the number of samples that need to be shipped back, further helping to reduce research costs. Full details of both papers can be found at:

https://doi.org/10.19189/MaP.2016.OMB.249

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.watres.2017.02.059

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Graphical abstract from the Water Research paper, showing an example of a plantation drainage channel and predictive ability of the UV model.

Panamanian peats

In order to understand and appreciate the breadth and importance of the fieldwork carried out by members of the UK Tropical Peatland Working Group, we welcome posts on this blog from anyone with a story to tell.  Here, Nick Girkin, a PhD student from the University of Nottingham, describes the fieldwork he carried out last year in the relatively understudied peatlands of Panama.

In January 2016 I started the second stage of my fieldwork in San San Pond Sak wetland in Bocas del Toro Province, Panama. During my first visit in 2015 I trialled a range of fieldwork techniques investigating how below-ground plant inputs, particularly plant roots and root release of exudates and oxygen, can regulate surface greenhouse gas emissions and the extent to which this differs between plants of contrasting physiologies (i.e. palms vs broadleaved evergreen trees). This time I had developed a range of experimental approaches including plans for in situ mesocosms to exclude roots and root inputs, phloem labelling with natural abundance and 13C labels and a 13CO2 labelling experiment. The results of this work are important in terms of broadening our understanding of how regulation of greenhouse gas emissions may differ between different plant groups, with implications across forested peatland ecosystems.

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Access to San San Pond Sak Wetland

The site itself is dominated by two plant species: Campnosperma panamensis, a broadleaved evergreen tree, and Raphia taedigera, a palm, and I aimed to assess whether differences in greenhouse gas fluxes between these species previously observed could be linked to differences in below ground release of root exudates, oxygen and decaying root material.

During both field campaigns I was based at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute research station on Isla Colon, a short boat ride away from my field sites on the mainland. On sampling days I, together with Erick Brown my field guide, would take a boat across the short stretch of the Caribbean to reach the wetland, before a short 1 km trek through the swamp forest to the field sites. The first week was particularly long and laborious, involving clearing a trail to the field site, making and then installing mesocosms into the soil. The average day of fieldwork involved collecting surface gas samples from the mesocosms and measuring a range of soil properties known to regulate gas fluxes (e.g. the height of the water table). CO2 and CH4 fluxes from these sites broadly match those measured in South East Asian Peatlands (400 – 800 mg CO2 m2 h-1 and 0.1 – 2 mg CH4 m2 h-1).

Work at the station involved tending to transplanted Campnosperma, Raphia and Symphonia globulifera saplings which towards the end of my fieldwork I labelled with 13CO2 with the aim of tracing recent photoassimilates into plant tissues, the soil microbial community and the production of CH4 through microbial use of plant derived carbon.

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Reaching field sites in San San Pond Sak

Happy World Wetlands Day!

Today is a day to celebrate and spread the word about our world’s wonderful wetlands.

Taken from the World Wetlands Day website.

On this day 46 years ago, the Convention on Wetlands was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar.  Since then, the 2nd February has marked the signing of this Ramsar Convention: “an international treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources”.

Wetlands are increasingly acknowledged for their importance in controlling the quality and quantity of water flowing across landscapes, as reflected by the theme of this year’s World Wetlands Day: Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction.  They are also important for biodiversity conservation, for filtering pollutants from water supplies and of course our beloved peatlands are critical for sequestering and storing atmospheric carbon (in their intact form).

None of you peatland experts need to be told this though!  But there are many people out there who don’t understand how important bogs are.  Perhaps it’s time for a World Peatlands Day?

To celebrate the day and how peatland management has changed in the UK and Ireland over the last few generations, from predominantly extraction to conservation, here is a poem by Seamus Heaney:

Digging

Between my finger and my thumb   

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.




Under my window, a clean rasping sound   

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   

My father, digging. I look down




Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   

Bends low, comes up twenty years away   

Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   

Where he was digging.




The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   

Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep

To scatter new potatoes that we picked,

Loving their cool hardness in our hands.




By God, the old man could handle a spade.   

Just like his old man.




My grandfather cut more turf in a day

Than any other man on Toner’s bog.

Once I carried him milk in a bottle

Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up

To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods

Over his shoulder, going down and down

For the good turf. Digging.




The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head.

But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.




Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.