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GCRA Indigenous Peoples’ Environmental Restoration And Climate Change Adaptation Projects
Indigenous peoples have managed the natural resources they live from since the dawn of humanity, and are guardians of most of the world’s biodiversity. But they are now the first and worst victims of climate change they did not cause and are powerless to prevent, while their lands and waters are being stolen, and their ancient cultures being destroyed, by powerful outside forces.
GCRA places top priority on working closely with indigenous cultures, especially sea peoples, around the world, to give them access to the best scientific knowledge and new techniques for restoring their own ecosystems and preserving their ancient knowledge, while acquiring new concepts and methods that can empower them to adapt to global climate change on their own terms. GCRA works for little or no money (but expenses) to help the First Peoples acquire the best methods to restore their lands, waters, and cultures. Working with poor indigenous cultures is more important to us than helping rich countries who could afford climate change adaptation measures if they chose to.
There is a critical need to raise funding to support projects and training to restore their ecosystems and maintain their cultures against accelerating threats of global cultural homogenization and climate change. We are desperately seeking tax-deductible charitable donations to complete the 12 critical environmental projects described below, in partnership with different Indigenous Peoples around the world.
GCRA has very specific and long-standing ties with all of these groups, and has their full backing because of their appreciation for detailed information and advice we have given them in the past, based on deep knowledge of their histories, cultures, and environmental issues. Most of these connections are personal and family ties of GCRA’s President Tom Goreau, henceforward TG, who plans to write a book on Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change. TG has worked with the United Nations Indigenous People’s Caucus at the UN Climate Change Negotiations.
Panama Guna Indians
The Guna (Kuna, Cuna) Indians of Panama are a fishing and diving people who never lost their independence to the Spanish, and have maintained their cultural and political institutions intact. They preserved their independence and traditions by deliberate isolation, never allowing outsiders to cut down their jungles, bring in cattle, own anything in their lands, or even invest in them.
The Gunas have a remarkable society with no hereditary leaders, they elect them based on their knowledge and wisdom. Reports by Jamaican pirates in the late 1600s of a culture with no kings or hereditary aristocracy, where anyone could rise to leadership based on their ability, were the direct roots of the French Revolution’s “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite”, and the European enlightenment’s demand for full participatory democracy, not ancient Athens, where most people were slaves.
Because the Gunas think they are as good as anyone else, they are regarded as “uppity” Indians who don’t know their place, and their refusal to be subservient offends the Panamanian Government, so they are politically and economically marginalized, and receive little funding for their essential needs. Most Guna die from drinking contaminated river water, even the clinics don’t have clean water.
The Gunas live on 50 tiny islands in the sea, which they built by mining corals over the centuries. The Gunas are free divers for lobster, and produce around 80% of Panama’s marine exports by value, although almost all of that goes to middlemen who export their catch and not to the Gunas. SCUBA diving is banned in Guna waters, with a special exemption for the GCRA team, because they know we don’t catch or eat lobsters and are helping them grow back their reefs and islands.
Right now the Guna are abandoning a quarter of all of their islands because flooding by global sea level rise is making them uninhabitable, they are already climate change refugees. The Gunas want GCRA to work with them to use Biorock Technology to protect their islands from erosion, to restore their coral reef fisheries, and to restore their over-harvested lobster populations.
TG’s oldest aunt was the Panamanian Minister of Education who established the schools in the Indian regions, personally trained the first generation of teachers, and was made an honorary Guna chief (Sahila) in gratitude. Today the Gunas have the highest participation in education of any group in Panama, because their culture is uniquely based on sharing of knowledge.
GCRA has worked very closely with the Guna Indians since 1994, and are the only non-Guna to have permission to do environmental restoration projects in their lands and waters. In contrast, the Gunas expelled the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution Laboratory because they took corals without permission, did not share knowledge, and treated the Guna as intellectual inferiors.
GCRA has never been able to find funds to return to train Guna divers to grow back their reefs and islands as they have repeatedly asked us to do. Any funding we raise will go towards helping them save their islands by growing back their reefs, and restoration and management of their fisheries resources, especially lobster. We also work with them to restore their soil fertility to restore their holy plant, Cacao (chocolate), which has almost been exterminated by fungal diseases.
Panama Ngobe Indians
The Ngobe (Guaymi) Indians are the largest and poorest indigenous community in Panama. When the Ngobe discovered Columbus, he called their land Veraguas, the True Waters, because he had finally found the source of the gold he had tortured and killed his way across the Caribbean to find, with very little result. The Ngobe allowed Columbus to carry all the gold his men could mine in two days, but due to his unacceptable behavior as a guest, trying to force them into slavery and follow his religious superstitions, they told him to leave immediately and never come back, and nearly killed him when he tried to steal still more gold. Columbus himself died before he could get back to Veraguas, but his brother and his son bought African Mandingo slaves from the arabs to mine the gold, who immediately ran away into the jungle and became the first free black Maroons, around 1510.
More than 500 years later, the Ngobe people still won’t allow gold mining, viewing it as an unspeakable violation of their land. Every time Panamanian Governments are bribed by the world’s largest mining companies to seize their lands for mining, they peacefully block the main roads and bridges in Panama, and most people support them, despite the inconvenience. The Ngobe response to the Spanish was to retreat to the jungles, and to this day they largely reject education as a trick to destroy their culture, in strong contrast to the Gunas, who have the intellectual self-confidence to accept the best outside knowledge on their own terms.
TG, whose family roots are in Veraguas (his 95 year old mother who died on December 18 2016, was the first Panamanian marine scientist), is of Ngobe and Mandingo descent, and has lived and dived on Escudo de Veraguas, the tiny offshore island that is their main fisheries resource. This island has a unique species of dwarf sloth, which lives only in a single tiny patch of mangroves, whose leaves they eat. There is hardly any living coral left around their island, with the result that their fisheries are very poor. GCRA aims to work with Ngobe fishermen to restore their fisheries habitat, and with Ngobe farmers on soil fertility restoration projects, using new methods we have developed in Panama, and ancient methods invented by the Amazonian Indians of Brazil thousands of years ago.
Mexico Comca’Ac Indians
The Comca’ac (Seri) Indians are the smallest and most independent indigenous culture in Mexico, speaking a language unrelated to any other. They survived repeated Spanish and Mexican efforts at genocide by hiding for 300 years on desert islands in the Sea of Cortes where no one else could live due to lack of water, living on fish, turtles, and cactus.
Although the Comca’ac have incredibly rich marine resources in Infiernillo Strait between Tiburon Island and coastal Sonora, they are among the poorest people in Mexico. The extremely rapid currents flowing through the strait make it one of the world’s great tidal energy resources. TG is scientific advisor to Tiburon Agua y Electricidad, a group partnering with the Comca’ac to develop their marine currents as a source of low cost renewable energy to produce fresh water from sea water for the Comca’ac in northwestern Mexico, and the Tohono O’odham (Papago) people of Arizona, whose ancient farming lands were abandoned after the US seized their country and pumped the rivers and ground waters dry.
The brine wastes from desalination, normally dumped into the ocean, will be used as a mineral extraction resource, using Biorock Technology, invented by the late Wolf Hilbertz and TG, to produce harder and lower cost building materials than concrete, which remove CO2 from the atmosphere instead of adding it as cement manufacture does.
The Comca’ac fisheries resources are based on several unique species endemic to the area, including two of the world’s most valuable and rapidly growing bivalves, and an endemic fish that has been driven to near extinction due to the value of its organs in China. Comca’ac waters have most of the seagrass and turtles on the Pacific coast of the Americas, but turtles and sharks have been severely overharvested for sale to outsiders. The region is also the northern limit of corals in the Eastern Pacific, whose growth we will accelerate.
TG has gained the confidence of the Comca’ac fishermen by diving with them in Infiernillo and showing them how they could grow the species they harvest much faster, and without the risks of dying from the oil-contaminated air they breathe while diving using air pumps on their boats. We will do research and development projects with the Comca’ac to find the fastest and most effective way to bring these species into highly valuable mariculture using Biorock Technology. They are very eager to see these projects start immediately, but no funding is available.
Indonesia Fishing Communities
GCRA has worked with Indonesian fishing communities for almost 20 years, and we have built around 300 Biorock coral reef restoration projects with our Indonesian students and partners on many islands, around three quarters of all such projects in the entire world.
Our major sites have been in Pemuteran (Bali) and Gili Trawangan (Lombok). When we began there was only around 1% live coral cover on the reef, and the fisheries had collapsed. In 5-10 years GCRA-trained teams had restored their reefs to around 99% live coral cover and built up huge fish populations that restored the fisheries for surrounding communities. These projects have become huge international ecotourism attractions that drive the economies of entire villages, which had been the poorest on their islands, creating a boom in hotels, dive shops, tourism services, and jobs. Our Indonesian teams have built many Biorock projects in Sulawesi, Java, Flores, Sumbawa, and Ambon, and are developing new projects and training local teams in Halmahera and West Papua.
One of our local partners, Yayasan Karang Lestari (Protected Coral Foundation), received many international awards, including the United Nations Equator Award for Community Based Development, and the Special United Nations Development Programme Award for Oceans and Coastal Management. Despite all these international accolades, we have never had one penny of funding from governments or international agencies (except for UNDP funding described in the next section), and the projects and local staff are minimally supported by small donations from tourists.
Pemuteran villagers are very proud of how they restored their fisheries, and want every other fishing village in Indonesia, a nation of 250 million people on 17,000 islands, where 80% of the protein comes from the sea, to do the same. Only 5% of Indonesia’s coral reefs, the largest and most biologically diverse in the world, remain in good condition. In the last year many reefs were devastated by severe storms, massive outbreaks of coral-eating starfish and snails, mud from floods, sewage from humans, wastes from fish farms, and much worse global warming-caused bleaching than that which killed most of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef in early 2016, so our team is now restarting all our efforts.
In Bali more than 95% of the corals on the best reefs died from heat shock, but maintained Biorock reefs had almost complete coral survival! Biorock reefs grew back severely eroded beaches naturally in a few months, and could be used worldwide to restore vanishing shorelines.
We are seeking funds to renovate and expand these projects, not only in Pemuteran, but all across Indonesia, and train the many remote fishing communities that are asking for help, but who have no tourists who can donate small sums.
Vanuatu Fishing Communities
Vanuatu is one of the poorest countries in the Pacific, and its people survived two genocides, from European diseases, and from European and Australian slavers, the so-called “blackbirders”. Nevertheless, the Ni-Vanuatu people have been rated as the happiest in the world by international surveys. TG has a special bond with young Vanuatu people because they greatly admire Jamaican culture, and he is the first Jamaican they have ever met.
All coastal communities fish the coral reefs for food, and they have been so deeply concerned about decline of their coral reefs, even though they are still among the best in the world, that they tried all the conventional methods of coral transplantation, but all failed when water became too hot or muddy, conditions Biorock-grown corals survive.
In June, 2016, the United Nations Development Programme funded the Vanuatu Fisheries Department to hold a Biorock coral reef fisheries restoration training workshop. This was attended by more than 100 people, who built and installed Biorock reefs at three sites near Tanoliu, whose coral reefs were dredged and destroyed by the US military in 1943 for an airport, and have not recovered. Many other villages have requested similar projects.
GCRA feels that Vanuatu is one of the most promising places in the world for reef restoration due to the eagerness of the people to restore their resources. We are seeking support to greatly expand training in Biorock coral reef restoration and mariculture methods to fishing communities across Vanuatu, to set up village cooperatives for giant clam and fish cultivation, and as a base to train people from other Pacific island nations in reef restoration, in particular atoll islanders.
Hotsararie, Hatahobei, Palau
Hotsararie (Helen Reef) is an extremely remote atoll that belongs to the Hatahobei (Tobi) People of Palau. Hatahobei is one of a handful of very remote Southwest Islands, closer to New Guinea, Indonesia, and Philippines than to Palau, whose people speak a completely different language than Palauan. Their islands have no lagoons, no safe anchorages, and hence very little fish resources, so most of the population has been forced to migrate to Palau, where they form a separate community, discriminated against by their neighbors.
The Hatahobei peoples’ only fisheries resource is Hotsararie, a huge remote atoll 80 kilometers away across the richest tuna fisheries in the Pacific, which the Palau government leases out to foreign commercial fleets. Hotsararie has only a single tiny sand bar above water at high tide, which is uninhabitable because there is no groundwater, but it is one of the world’s greatest seabird and turtle nesting sites.
Hotsararie means “Reef of the Giant Clams” because it had the most giant clams of any place in the Pacific, and has the highest coral, fish, and invertebrate diversity of any Pacific reef. Almost all of the giant clams were stolen by foreign industrial fishing fleets, many from Taiwan, because the Hatahobei people could not live there permanently to protect their resources, since they had to sail from Hatahobei to fish and could stay only as long as their water held out.
The only dry land on Hotsararie, the sand bar, is moving sideways at 15 meters a year across the reef flat due to rapid erosion on the west and deposition of sand on the east. A coconut tree planted on the east shore of the island will collapse into the sea on the west shore before it is old enough to bear! The remains of a concrete platform built on the island by Japanese troops in the 1940s sits underwater nearly a kilometer away. If the Hatahobei people lose this sand bar, they will lose control of their entire atoll.
The Hatahobei Governor asked GCRA to grow a solar powered Biorock coral reef to protect Hotsararie from washing away, because they heard of our work growing back beaches naturally and quickly in the Maldives and Indonesia. It took many years to find funding to get there, then we had to wait nearly a year because their only supply boat to carry food from Palau to Hatahobei was broken and in dry dock in the Philippines, so the Hatahobei islanders had no supplies at all for this period, living only from coconuts and fish. When the boat was finally fixed we first had to deliver the rice and betel nuts they were desperate for before going to Hotsararie, where we built a 32 solar panel rack and a Biorock shore protection reef 200 meters long. We were unable to leave due to a Super-typhoon, and when we could finally get out we were down to the last bag of rice.
Unfortunately, we did not have enough time, money, people, or equipment to do the job properly, since we had no electricity we could not weld, so the structure was wired together by hand, and this was not enough to withstand the huge logs smashing across the reef, coming from New Guinea, Indonesia, the Philippines, and even logs of Douglas Fir with characteristic rocks from British Columbia, the opposite side of the Pacific, wedged between the roots. Our solar panels are stored on Hotsararie, but we have no funds to get back there with the materials we need to finish the job, so the island continues to wash away. If we can raise funds we will go back to help the Hatahobei people save Hotsararie.
TG has lived in every single atoll nation: the Maldives, Tuvalu, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands, and all their islands are washing away. Millions of dollars have been spent by foreign aid agencies building sea walls, and every single one has collapsed, many before they finished building them, or soon will. Biorock beach restoration projects at Pulau Ganga, Sulawesi, Indonesia, grew back a 300 meter long beach in months, increasing the height of the beach by about 1.5 meters and the width by about 10 meters. It is the only hope for atoll countries to save themselves from global sea level rise, nothing else works. We hope Hotsararie and Hatahobei will be the first atoll islands to do so.
Jamaica Fishing Communities
Jamaica is the classic case history in reef degradation, even though the causes have been completely misunderstood by foreign researchers. TG spent the first 20 years of his life diving all around Jamaica with his father (the world’s first diving marine scientist) and his brothers, who are the last to remember how the reefs used to be, and is curator of the world’s largest collection of underwater reef photographs from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, taken by his grandfather (the inventor of macro photography, who took the first high quality underwater photographs, in the Bahamas and the Great Barrier Reef) and his father, mostly in Jamaica. A native Jamaican patois speaker, TG has worked with fishermen all around Jamaica to develop the first whole-watershed and coastal zone nutrient management plans, widely copied elsewhere, but never implemented in Jamaica.
Although Biorock coral reef restoration technology was invented and developed in Jamaica by the late Wolf Hilbertz and TG 30 years ago, there are now no projects in Jamaica because every effort to get funding has been blocked by local corruption. We are seeking funding to implement coral reef fisheries restoration projects in Jamaican fishing villages where fisheries have collapsed due to loss of coral reefs, with a particular focus on Little Bay and Bluefields in Westmoreland, and Portland Bight in Clarendon and St. Catherine, Jamaica’s largest and last remaining fish, conch, and lobster nursery habitat. We also seek funds to scan, archive, and post on the web the most important historical collection of old coral reef photographs in the world.
The Yolngu people of Arnhem Land, North Australia, were the only Aboriginals who never lost their land to the exiled British criminals who committed genocide and then declared that their god had given them an empty land. They fiercely fought Australians trespassing on their lands, who finally decided to leave them alone because they had nothing worth stealing, until rich uranium and aluminum mines were discovered on their lands, which were then seized.
The Dhuwa Yolngu have the oldest creation story in the world, going back more than 50,000 years to the island they came to Australia from, remembering the names and locations of all the places where they lived that were drowned by the sea at the end of the last Ice Age. These histories are remembered in secret chants, songs, and bark paintings.
The Yolngu prefer to avoid modern society and education as a threat to their culture, but the lean fierce warriors of the past are now dying from diabetes caused by white man’s food: white sugar, white flour, white bread, white rice, and white lard, dumped on them by a racist welfare system.
In 1950 TG’s grandfather, who photographed their ancient traditional cultural practices, was adopted as brother to the clan leader of the Dhuwa Yolngu clan whose duty is to preserve these histories, and they recognize that status as hereditary. TG’s family were chosen to be curators of their most sacred and complete bark paintings, and are routinely asked to return for important secret traditional ceremonies that no outsiders have witnessed, but can’t afford to do so.
The Dhuwa bark paintings, describing in secret encoded symbols the lands they have lived in for the past 50,000 years, have been recognized by the Australian Supreme Court as proof of their ownership of their lands, nevertheless they have been denied rights to their seas, even though their records describe all their submerged lands that were drowned by the sea.
The theft of their sea rights has been justified in Australian law by the Magna Carta, which states that any land, which somebody does not have a paper deed proving ownership of, belongs to the Kings of England, and to their successor, the Australian Government, who peddles the rights to Aboriginal waters to local and foreign fishing fleets.
GCRA’s goal is to help the Yolngu regain their sea rights, whose possession is clearly indicated in the bark paintings, songs, and chants, and to scan our family photograph collection of their grandparents’ traditions so they are available to current and future generations.
Torres Straits Islanders
The indigenous people of the Torres Straits, between New Guinea and Australia, largely live from fishing on low lying islands that are being eroded by very strong currents and global sea level rise. Mer Island, at the extreme northern end of the Great Barrier Reef, had the richest and most diverse coral reefs in Australian waters, but were badly affected in 2016 by the severe high temperature bleaching caused by global warming, which was worst in the far north, although Australian surveys stopped short of the Torres Straits.
The Mariam people of Mer Island, the only island in the Torres Straits where the people are farmers, were the first indigenous people in Australia to regain their lost land through a series of classic law suits. TG’s grandfather photographed their traditional cultural practices.
GCRA aims to scan and make available the 1950 photographs to the Mer community, train them in soil fertility restoration methods, and help fishermen in the low lying islands to protect their islands from erosion by global sea level rise restoring their coral reefs.
The Ati (Aeta) are the aboriginal people of the Philippines, and have lived there for at least 30,000 years. Called Negritos (little black people) by the Spanish, they have been forced into remote islands or mountains, overwhelmed or marginalized when the ancestors of the Filipinos migrated from Taiwan around 5,000 years ago.
Only one generation ago, the Ati were the only people on the island of Boracay, where they lived by fishing and hunting. When it was realized that Boracay had the finest white sand beaches in the Philippines their land was stolen from them. The Ati still survive in one small village, they have almost no educational opportunities, can’t get jobs, and survive by sending their small children begging on the streets with blank eyed stares and hands out in the hope someone drops a few coins in them so their families can eat.
Their ancient traditional village lands are now claimed by a very rich Filipino who is trying to throw them out of their last refuge so he can build a luxury hotel on it. Their only leader with education was openly murdered by one of his gunmen, and no case was filed against him.
Boracay is a mass tourism destination with all the worst features of greed and over-development, large slums, prostitution, and whenever it rains people have to wade through raw sewage in the streets. The coral reefs are almost entirely dead from sewage. GCRA researchers did the two most detailed water quality and reef health studies all around the island in 1997 and in 2007, and none of our recommendations to clean up the water and restore the reefs were followed.
We have been trying for 10 years to get back to Boracay with funding to work with the Ati community to grow back the coral reefs in front of the last Ati village on Boracay, so that they can manage it as an ecotourism snorkeling reserve and set up mariculture projects. They are eager to do so.
The Ihalmiut were the only inland Inuit (Eskimo) people of Arctic Canada, all the rest lived near the shore from the sea. The Ihalmiut lived entirely from caribou and fresh water fish in the tundra Barrenlands. They almost all died from starvation after the fur trade brought in guns, overharvested the caribou, and when the fur trade collapsed, so did the supply of bullets, while their ancient stone-age hunting methods had been lost. The handful of survivors were forcibly evacuated to the coast by the Canadian government, where most died of “broken hearts”.
When they decided to abandon the coast and go back to the tundra to try to resume their traditional life in 1954, they were accompanied by TG’s grandfather, who photographed their traditional cultural practices. Unfortunately, there were too few caribou left to survive, and they were forced back into exile from their lands, which are now melting away due to global warming.
Our goal is to scan the old photographs and make them available to the Ihalmiut community on Hudson Bay. There is only one survivor left who was in the photographs, and she is very old. She is dying to see these photographs, while there is still time for her to comment on who all the people were, and what they were doing. This is a race against time, and we have no resources for the task.
Senegal Cattle Herders
The Fula people are the specialist traditional migratory herders of all of the West Africa Sahel, from Senegal to Cameroon, but are suffering greatly from desertification, so most of their cattle and goats have starved to death, threatening their entire culture and way of life. They wish to preserve their traditions, rather than become farmers like the Mandingo, Wolof, and Serer.
TG, who is descended from Mandingo slaves who left Senegal more than 500 years ago, has worked with the people of Younoufere, a Fula village on the fringes of the Sahara Desert, to develop projects in soil fertility restoration so they can reforest their lands with trees that produce economically valuable products, produce more food for their livestock, generate renewable biomass energy, increase soil carbon resources, and recharge their vanishing groundwater resources.
The Younoufere people know they are degrading their land, but survival gives them no choice unless they can find resources to apply new methods to restore the productivity of their land. They are extremely eager to do so, but have no funding. GCRA will work with them on such projects if we can find money to do so.