This morning my team was ready to go! Colin and Margie arrived at about 9:00 and after a brief meeting to discuss our plan for the day we were off. While we were going to spend part of the day mapping roads our big trip was our first stop in the morning to the family home/property of J-Bo. J-Bo lives in Gagil Tamil (north east portion of the island) and about 2 months ago a wild fire burned a couple acres of his family’s property. J-Bo was very polite (offering us some fresh coconut) as he provided us with a tour through the burn area and his property. We were disappointed to see a number of Alphetonia carolinensis trees (specific to Yap) dead (but left standing) as a result of the fire (the bark has a root beer like aroma). There were a good number of ferns coming up throughout the burn site which was good news. In an attempt to limit the amount of grass and other low lying vegetation from taking hold J-Bo has started to plant some trees in the burn area. I was asked to provide some guidance as to how he could improve soil fertility and quality. The soils are heavily oxidized, acidic (pH = 4.0 – 4.5), contain little organic matter and consist mostly of clays (with mixed mineralogy). In fact, the soils on throughout Yap are pretty similar to J-Bo’s soils. Improving the fertility and overall quality is definitely going to be a challenge now and in the future.
Margie had the idea to perhaps use the site as a test “Terra Preta” site. In case you are not familiar with the term, Terra Preta (which means “dark earth”) is basically a process resulting in extremely fertile, organic rich soil. Terra Preta soils were first discovered in the Amazon and have persisted for hundreds and hundreds of years despite harsh weathering conditions. Ancient civilizations in the Amazon basically buried and burned much of their waste (mostly organic waste) in the ground. The burning process was not done in an open pit but rather an oxygen poor environment where they would cover the waste with soil/mud leaving a small opening to start the burning process. The product of burning organic materials in an oxygen poor environment is basically charcoal (today it is also known as biochar). Over time the layers upon layers of soil and waste (burned and unburned) created extremely fertile soil. Now it is not known if these ancient civilizations realized that what they were doing was improving soil fertility or if this was just their way of disposing/removing waste (parts of ceramic pots have been found in these sites, perhaps indicating that these sites were like “landfills”). Regardless, using a similar “Terra Preta” method could lead to improved soil fertility for J-Bo and the entire island of Yap. In addition to improving soil fertility this method could sequester carbon (thus reducing green house gas emissions) and provide a sustainable means of disposing of organic materials/waste. I’m not sure what will come from this discussion and visit but it does sound like they will be using some of my suggestions to improve soil health and quality at the burn site. As for the Terra Preta project, we’ll see. I hope this develops into something useful.
(NOTE: I apologize for the lack of pictures….I may have to wait till we are in Guam (in a few days) to upload pictures)