As I mentioned earlier, part of the reason for conducting this tour on the Esperanza is to head out from the ship and see the state of the nearby forests for ourselves. In an area so untroubled by dirt tracks, let alone any kind of roads, the only way to do this is from the air and that’s why we have Tweety the helicopter with us.
Over the past few days, Tweety has been out on several trips with plenty more to come. The most frequent flyers have been our cameramen – Ardiles for photographs, and Hernan on video – as they as the ones who can capture documentary evidence of what’s happening down on the ground. Ironically, it’s the logging areas that provide the best material for the camera guys and while vast forests look incredible in real life, they can look a bit samey in photographs. As one crew member who went a flight remarked, “It’s just trees, trees and more bloody trees.”
Bustar has also been on a few trips – as campaigner, he can assess the situation and provide context to the images and video brought back to the ship. And as online reporter extraordinaire, this afternoon I was given a chance to see the forest for myself. I just had to forget what Shaun, sat in the pilot seat, had told me last night about how few pins were holding the rotor blades in place.
After crossing the few miles of Pacific between the ship and the shore, we hit the scrubby swamp forests of the coast where the trees come right up to the beach. We turned south east to follow the tree line, flying over a couple of small villages where the tin-roofed houses stood in regimented lines. One was near a station where heavy machinery sat waiting to handle logs coming from further inland
We headed further inland ourselves, passing over huge ironwood trees, otherwise known as merbau, a favourite for hardwood flooring in Europe and elsewhere despite the fact that the World Conservation Union has said it faces “a high risk of extinction… in the near future”. The canopy grew steadily denser as we moved towards the Pegunungan Van Rees mountains and gained altitude where small flocks of white cockatoos drifted between trees. The doors had been removed so the drop in temperature was distinctly noticeable, and here we saw more evidence of logging – the muddy scars of roads winding along the hillsides, the tracks of heavy machinery clearly visible.
Passing over some of the jagged foothills, all draped in heavy foliage, we hit the Mamberamo River which snaked, fat and brown, to the coast. Around one of the bends we found a logging camp where felled trees were being loaded on to a barge to ship downriver. Small areas nearby had been cleared of trees and while it was nothing like the large operation Bustar saw on Tuesday, it was a depressing reminder that loggers are starting to move into this area.
We circled the camp a few times to take some pictures, flew out low over the river and then on to the Mamberamo Foja protected area where warm updrafts brought a damp, peaty, mushroom smell from beneath the canopy. It’s here that, in 2005, a team of scientists discovered several new species and looking down at the wealth of life rushing by beneath me, it’s almost certain that other plants and animals new to science are waiting to be discovered. If the chainsaws and oil palms don’t get there first.
Back on board, I’m still trying to take it all in. I’ve seen small pockets of rainforest before, but nothing close to the vast expanse I saw today. Even though helicopter might not the most environmentally friendly way to travel, it’s not something you could fully appreciate from the ground. I’m really glad I’ve had the chance to see something like this for myself and, figuratively speaking at least, I still haven’t come back down to Earth. And I’m really, really glad that we’re here to help save this astounding stretch of forest.
posted by Jamie on board the Esperanza