Mission Possible: Restoring the Peatland

11/05/2009 04:17 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Written with Greenpeace's South Asia Media Campaigner Hikmat Soeriatanuwijaya

We are now on the peatland area of Semenanjung Kampar, half an hour away by boat from Greenpeace Climate Defenders' Camp.

As far as we can see are bushes, grasses, several trees, and bushes again. Man, this is not the rainforest. Here we are, at Semenanjung Kampar that has more than 700.000 hectare area of forest, storing more than 2 billion carbon in it. Oh yeah, we say to each other, the latest data said that almost half of Semenanjung Kampar forest, approximately 300,000 hectare now already destroyed for plantations.

And this area must be one of that 300,000 hectares we are talking about. The peatland on this particular area is damaged because of the several canals built a couple years ago for illegal logging activity. Now the logging activity is stopped, but the canals remain, draining and damaging the surrounding peatland each and every day.

In one canal, we can see about 50 Greenpeace activists and local community working hard building the dam. Under command of Petteri, the dam looks good. They already finished the first wall and continue to build the next one.

"Greenpeace activists and local communities working together building this dam to stop emission and restore the ecosystem of this place," said Petteri.

Stop the greenhouse gas emissions! Restoring this place to the normal condition of the rainforest! Big work, big hope considering this peatland is already severely destroyed.

But it is not the Mission Impossible! What's the point of planning the mission if we already feel it's impossible to achieve the goal?

Just call it Mission Possible, or even better, Mission of Hope. Because no matter how hard it is, there's always a hope.

Because science say what Greenpeace and the community working on here, really can restore the condition of the surrounding peatland.

"Much of the carbon released from peatland swamps is the result of draining so the land, or the logs, can be used," says Professor Jonotoro, a peatlands expert.

Professor Jonotoro has been joining Greenpeace efforts to stop deforestation for quite some time. This friendly man is also very concerned about the feature of Semenanjung Kampar forest.

We stand in the river bank, while the damming work still in process. Jonotoro is the right person to talk to get to know more the peatland situation. He is one of the peatland experts from the Ministry of Forestry, and lecturer at Lancang Kuning University in Pekan Baru.

According to Jonotoro, peatland is made up of a waterlogged store of semi-decomposed vegetation, which squelches underfoot. The deeper the peatland - it can stretch to a depth of more than 15m - the more carbon it holds. "As the water level drops, more and more of the stock of carbon is released into the atmosphere."

Not only make it hard for the biodiversity, if set on fire dry peatland can burn for weeks - the fire can be extinguished on the surface, only to continue burning underground and reappear the next day.

"By building this dam, we aim to restore the peatland to the rainforest condition, so the ecosystem able to live here anymore," Jonotoro explained.

So Professor, can you tell us just how much of this area being damage? And if this damming project finished, how long the restoration process begin to get the result?

Jonotoro paused and looking at us sharply. We were afraid he no longer want to explain further because we've already asked a lot of questions since we departed from the camp. But no, he grabbed his field hat and said: "Come with me!"

We walked deeper inside the area. We have to be careful because peatland is very unstable. Bustar, our Forest Campaigner, fell down when we crossed a wood bridge. 20 minutes of walking, we arrive at the area surrounded by headhigh grasses. There were a pipe there and Jonotoro check it by putting wood tools in it.

"That's dry. This place is loosing the water table," he said. He pull his measure tools and it shown: 50 centimeters.

"The best condition for peatland is 20 to 0 centimeters. When this peatland can achieved that condition, the environment can be restored.

Usually, we can see the effect for the ecosystem around three month. "The result will depends on many things. But when the dam built, we will definitely get the positive result."

Yes, Professor, it has to be.