This summer I was lucky enough to spend 3 weeks in the field, in Seram, Maluku province, and also in Central and South Sulawesi. Joining me were Sita and Wihermanto, my colleagues from Kebun Raya Bogor where our research project on biogeography of Eucalyptus deglupta is based.
We set out from Bogor in early August to take the 1am red eye flight to Ambon in Maluku. We took the ferry across to the town of Masohi on Seram and were met by staff from Taman Nasional Manusela. After the first of many excellent meals of grilled fish and rice, we went to meet the Park Head, who was incredibly helpful and happy to have us visit to work in the park. He provided us with knowledgeable staff, the park truck, and a place to stay in the village on the outskirts of the park, about 5 hours drive from Masohi. Our trip to the park was amazing, the environment is still pristine, and the park staff knew of many stands of E. deglupta, meaning that we collected a large number of samples for the project. The trees grown on river flats so basically we would just wade up the shallow, wide rivers, which were clean and full of fish and shrimps, to look for the trees. We also took one local park guide and who reminisced about the number of British researchers who had visited in TN Manusela before the “chaos” of the late 1990s when Maluku was plagued by religious violence stirred up by outsiders; Maluku is split between Muslim and Christian communities who have lived alongside each other in peace for decades. You can still see burned out churches and mosques side by side in Masohi. The staff were also keen to learn about making the collections, and after watching Sita and Wihermanto the first time, they would then jump into action at each new site and had everything collected and all the data recorded within 30 minutes of arriving. We spent one night out in the forest, it was just amazing to out there peace, hearing the birds (hornbills and cockatoos). We took a group of local villagers with us as porters and they build an entire camp, including cooking table, while we were collecting trees nearby. Hopefully the park can be properly protected; already there were rough roads cut into some parts of the park to take gravel from the river for building and this is being done on an semi-industrial scale.
After a great week on Seram we returned to Ambon, which is a very unlovely town, to get our flight to Sulawesi. We landed in Palu in Central Sulawesi to complete paperwork and drive to TN Lore Lindu. The park office was not so welcoming, but we were soon on our way and into TN Lore Lindu. I had heard many good things about this park before going but unfortunately the park is rapidly being encroached, after new roads have been build that allow better access, and the local government has begun transmigrating poor people with no land into the park so that they can make a living there. This has lead to deforestation and it was not so easy to find our trees as many populations had already been cut down. However, we did collect a reasonable number of samples, but it was sad to see the park being damaged.
Our final stop was in South Sulawesi. After flying down to Makassar we drove north for about 6 hours to Enrekang where Sita and Wihermanto are advising the local government on setting up a new botanic garden. The staff were very friendly and helpful, and knew Sita and Wihermanto well, so we had a very pleasant visit. Most of the E. deglupta in this area has already been lost to agriculture and development but we were able to collect a few samples, which are important for the project as they are far removed from the other populations we collected so far.
We returned to Makassar so that Sita and Wihermanto could fly back to Java in time for the fasting month of Ramadan. Meanwhile I stayed on in Makassar to meet Ruth, our friend from the UK. We had a great field trip and collected a great number of samples as well having the chance to visit a few far flung corners of Indonesia. I recommend Maluku to everyone, it is a wonderful relaxed place with fantastic wildlife and an unspoiled environment.