A flooded church, a poisoned forest: was it climate change to blame?

An abandonned church in Yeretuap village, Papua © Greenpeace/Rante

An abandoned church in Yeretuap village, Papua © Greenpeace/Rante

This expedition is certainly proving to be an education. For instance, since I joined the ship I’ve learnt a great deal about how information is gathered for our campaigns. I spend most of my time in the Greenpeace office in London so it’s an eye-opener to see how things are done out in the field.

Take the helicopter trip last Monday, for instance. As well as the illegal logging activities the team uncovered, they stumbled across another interesting sight and when they returned to the Esperanza, Bustar showed everyone the pictures he had taken of a church they had passed over along the coast. It was half-submerged in sand with waves lapping at the door. He had also taken pictures of a dead zone in the forest nearby, where the ocean had risen up, flooded the land and poisoned the trees with salt water.

Our immediate assumption was that this was the result of rising sea levels, and this seemed to be supported by the fact that the village of Yeretuap which had once stood near the church had moved further inland. But even though the images showed what we thought could be some striking evidence of climate change at work, it needed more investigation.

The sea rushed in an poisoned this forest near Yeretuap village © Greenpeace/Rante

The sea rushed in an poisoned this forest near Yeretuap village © Greenpeace/Rante

So the flight schedule was amended to include a return trip to the area so the helicopter could land for a recce. Bustar went to talk to some of the villagers about what had happened and they said that, no, it wasn’t rising seas which had caused them to move to higher ground, but a tsunami in 2002.

So we didn’t get the big climate change story we thought we might have, but it’s a good example of how initial findings on our research trips are backed up by further investigation (not to mention a good warning about not jumping to conclusions). The same was true of the illegal logging uncovered on the same helicopter trip, and more investigation was carried out both here on the ship and in at the office in Jakarta before the information was released. In this business, we need to get our facts right.

posted by Jamie, on board the Esperanza

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