Fulofol planted in Malem pre-contact?

Mea culpa. I was wrong. The 1944 photos confirm that the trees are a remnant of a line of trees that stood on the shore line. The photos supplied by Doug Ramsey - which Simpson indicated he also has copies of - confirm this. That leaves, at least for me, unexplained as to the why the catastrophic loss of the trees and thence the shoreline.

The key seems to be the river, and not necessarily the 1950s straightening of the river. In the 1950s the river mouth was moved about a hundred meters South, but an informant says the fulofol was already dying before that move of the river outlet. His understanding when he was growing up in the late 40s and early 50s was that the Malem river headed south to Yesing (sp?). He thinks that the river was moved long before the Japanese arrived on the island. He indicated that an old riverbed to the south of the present riverbed (just south of Rinson Phillips home) is the original riverbed and this flow went to Yesing.

That leaves open in my mind that the possibility of a more fundamental change in hydrodynamics. Up in Piyuul fresh water spring exist on the reef - artesian springs - that apparently help keep the Piyuul fulofol alive in some way. Maybe there was artesian pressure under the reef in Malem that helped maintain the nipa and fulofol that grew along the shore line. The trenching of the river may have effectively drained the swamps and removed the pressure that acted as a pump of fresh water under the strand.

I hope to get a hold of Doug Ramsey and inquire about the extent to which the 1944 Navy photos can be shared. I think I can share the following image to help others understand the error of my ways. I have reduced the image to spare those on dial-up connections. I would do something fancier with the two images below, but I do not have the horsepower in my computer to work with large image files.
malem_1944_561 (50K)
In the 1944 shot above a bomb crater can be seen in what appears to be the vicinity of the modern Malem church. The road is the Japanese sand, an informant says the modern road is essentially on top of that road. Shoreward of what is now the singular main channel is a second outlet structure. This is a drainage on a large reef pool which my informant says was like a lake. He noted it was deep and primarily comprised of fresh water, probably from the river. The river went under the road near the present bridge and then turned north running oceanside of the road. The lighter colored vegetation oceanward of the road is possibly nipa palm, with the fulofol on the inner edge of the sand. Standing on the road in Malem one could not see through the vegetation to the ocean - hard to believe nowadays!
malem_2006_561 (49K)
Ever since I dropped a tire on a pick-up I was driving off a bridge on that old riverbed to the south of the present riverbed back in 1993 I have wondered why that riverbed is there - now I know.

My thanks to Katrina at KVR, Doug Ramsey, Lyndon Cornelius, Andy George, Bill Raynor, and Takumi George for their assistance and guidance in correcting my wrong ideas!

Which all leaves me back where my mind started: is there anyway to save that coastline short of the brute force approach of a massive line of breakwaters and dikes which require constant repair and renewal? Is there anyway to keep the remaining fulofol from dying? To get young growing again? A living breakwater would be at least a partially self-repairing buffer against the sea.


Andy George wrote:

Lenwo Dana,

Possible theory, but as far as I know, the fulofol trees were at one time grown along the banks of the Malem river/natural drainage which used to run along the shoreline from Malem to Masis (by the Baptist Church) where it joined in with the Masis river. The entire segment of the river, however, is gone, due to erosion. The only remnants of the river are the fulofol trees.

----- Original Message -----

Sent: Friday, July 21, 2006 4:54 PM
Subject: [climate change] Fulofol planted in Malem pre-contact?

I was at a 60th birthday party just south of Malem here on Kosrae a few weeks ago. As I have done for the past 14 years, I wandered down to the beach to have a look at the coast. As I have come to expect to find, where the omp and oa (Ipomea) are "cleaned" the beach is eroding, where the omp and oa are left alone the berm is holding together and the beach looks healthier.

I noticed something else that puzzled me. The fulofol is a) very old b) dying or dead and c) there are no young fulofol growing. Fulofol is the mangrove tree with the knees found on the reef here in Malem. Any natural system usually provides evidence of succession - if the system is naturally self-renewing. I realize that there are exceptions - forests in Wyoming that renew only after the pine cones have been heated by fire.

I am certain I am wrong and surely crazy, but the thought came into my tiny little head that the fulofol is not native or "natural" to the reef of Malem. It does not renew itself on the reefs of Malem. Not all by itself. I asked the newly 60 year-old how old were the fulofol. He seemed perturbed by my daring to ask him anything, and indicated he did not know. Although he did not appear to want to discuss the matter, he indicated that as far as he knew the trees had been there since he was a child. Another guest noted that as far as they knew those trees were very old.

I dragged a fellow from Utwe who is my age out to the beach and asked him where were the baby fulofol, he noted that he had not seen any. Not out on the reef. He said the waves were too rough for the fulofol to get started on the reef.

Now I was really troubled - if the reef waves are too rough, how did the fulofol that is there get there in the first place?

Now I am keenly aware the human brain sees patterns where there are none, that statistically coincidences happen, and that in any natural system such as a reef there may be an optimum location for plants to root and grow. So I am certain I am wrong. Yet I saw something that puzzled me: the oldest of the fulofol were all in a line. A straight line.
kosrae_2006_lc_line (35K)
(road on the left, beach is light yellow gray, reef flat is gray, reef edge wave line on the extreme lower right)

On the way home I gave a ride to an old woman who lives near the Malem river outlet, next to where old Nena Livaie used to live. I asked her about fulofol on the reef in Malem and she noted that there used to be fulofol in front of her house - the fulofol extended up and down the coast at one time. She noted it was almost all gone now.

Running the other night on the reef at low tide I noticed the same linear effect just south of the Malem river outlet.
kosrae_2006_mea_line (41K)
Yes, I know, that may be the location of a minimum in the translating wave energy on the reef and hence was an optimal location for seedling growth. Yet there are no new young seedling anywhere along that line. No new growth.

Up in Piyuul the same situation: no baby trees, no young growth. Just really old trees.

Now here is the really crazy part of my thinking: what if someone planted the fulofol? What if there was an optimal time - a window - every few years in which fulofol could get a start. Those of who surf know if we are in an El Nino or La Nina just by the depth of the water on the heads. Shallow in an El Nino year, deep in a La Nina year. Every few decades a deep El Nino should move lots of water out - providing for lowish tides even in winter. A chance for fulofol to get started. On the transition to La Nina the tropical storms form west - as they have been doing thus far this year.  You get a window of opportunity to get a new batch of shoreline protecting fulofol started.

One only needs to replant every few decades or so - and one only gets the right combination every few decades or so. Ancient wisdom? Lost during the population collapse of the late 1800s?  Did the ancient Malemites know that one had to replant fulofol periodically to protect the coast?

Given that the breakwater has altered the coastal dynamics, could fulofol even be planted on the reef in Malem to protect the reef? 

I note the timeliness of a new UNEP report on the risk to mangroves. Maybe here in Malem people are the ones who have to be proactive and plant the trees that protect the coast...

My apologies for all of my errors - this is by no means any form of sound analysis. I sure wish we could get a coastal expert in to look at the coast of Malem and come to understand why it acts and reacts as it does. Over the years I've heard the moving of the river mouth blamed, waves blamed, all sorts of reasons for the erosion. And Malem has turned to a massive breakwater wall to attempt to hold off the ocean. Yet the waves are already scouring away at the bottom of this fortification.

My thanks to Google Earth/DigitalGlobe for their Kosrae images - these are new. One can even see the new breakwater in the images!

Sorry if this message has wasted your time!

Credit for the 1944 aerial photo:
The scanned image used is from a set of aerial images taken in June 1944 by US spy planes. 22 of the images were obtained by the US Forestry Service from the Bishop Museum in Hawaii. Reprints of the originals are held with the US Forestry service in Hawaii

The remainder were discovered in the Kosrae State Survey Department and were scanned in by the DRC. Due to the limitations of the scanner parts of some of the photographs were cut off and only the coastal images were scanned in. However, the aerial images found in the Survey Department were taken to the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission in Fiji (April 2000) to be scanned in properly.

Doug Ramsay
Coastal engineer
Development Review Commission
April 2000