So today we began a three day project of mapping specific communities located with specific watersheds. This project will allow government agencies to produce a land-use map that will help locals determine where the best sites are located for food production. Our work is part of a grant obtained by my colleague Dr. Reed Perkins and local counter parts through the US Forest Service to study the impact of climate change on food security in Yap (see the related blog post and news story (Queens and Yap in the News).
Our assignment was to map old and current dancing grounds, community houses, men’s houses and various types of rock platforms. These sites would be considered off limits for food production. We also mapped streams that for one reason or another were not identified on any map found in Yap. As with our work in the village of Maakiy, students were providing service and completing work with a real purpose and impact. The work isn’t very difficult but it can become time consuming. The longer we are out in the hot blazing sun the greater the toll the work has on all of us. In the morning we had a full team of students and faculty mapping but in the afternoon only a small team would be needed. Part of the reason why a smaller team was necessary was that there was a good chance that we might come across the “Poison Tree” otherwise known as Semecarpus venenosus.
The sap produced by this tree is known to cause significant blistering and bullae formation with sloughing of the skin. This is a reaction similar to a really severe second-degree burn. The Japanese word for this tree translated to “The tree with black sap that rots the flesh”. Upon hearing the Japanese name for this tree I choose to stick to the “Poison Tree”. We were also told of a recent situation where a scientist (a hydrologist) was hiking in an area where the tree was common and when warned of the tree he brushed it off explaining he wasn’t very sensitive to plants like poison ivy so he wasn’t worried. Well during his hike (which involved frequent trips off the path) he did come in contact with the tree and the sap and it result in a good amount of skin and flesh being removed (about 2-3 inches across and a ¼” deep). If we can anywhere near this tree our local guides assured us that they would stear us clear. Over the course of our mapping we did come across two poison trees. The first was a very young tree in a pre-sap stage. The other was an older tree with black sap covering 1/3 of the trunk. Although the 2nd tree was more dangerous we were a good 25-30 feet away and luckily were only close enough to capture a picture. Again, although this tree was known to be found in the area it wasn’t extremely common (the hydrologist mentioned earlier was working in a different part of Yap) and we were pretty safe if we remained on the path…. Still, an interesting encounter that I can make seem much more interesting and dangerous when I tell others in the future…….