XIAMEN, China — If the tale of Robinson Crusoe reflects an individuals struggle for survival against tough natural conditions, then the real-life story of Beishui Lin, together with his son, has demonstrated that peaceful coexistence of man and nature can be reached with resolute faith.
The Lins, residents of a small village in Fujian Province, have planted more than 300,000 trees on a small island named "E'yuyu" (literally, alligator island) over the past 20 years. Vegetation now covers 80 percent of the island – an impressive outcome for an island with a size of 149,484㎡ and a coastline of 1.74 kilometres.
The island – which is now covered mainly by tropical plants including grey mangroves, black mangroves as well as mango trees – was "environmentally handicapped" by excessive logging during the planned economy period decades ago. History records show that more than 40 percent of the island had disappeared because of waves and typhoons, according to Xiang Xu, dealer design manager from Ford Asia Pacific and Africa, who volunteered to investigate Lins' project.
As one of the shortlisted projects under the leadership in environmental conservation category of Ford's 2011 Conservation and Environmental Grants, China programme (CEGC), Lin’s story is like a modern-day Robinson Crusoe, the protagonist in Daniel Defoe's novel who built a fenced-in habitation after being cast away by a shipwreck. Lin started to live on the island by himself and plant trees at his own expense since 1990, while his son, Dasheng, joined him in 2008.
"Old Lin is very opinionated, he is not the easy-to-back-down type of person," said fellow villager Chuiyi Lin, "Conditions are harsh on the island with no electricity and little water, it is very hard for trees to survive; all the other villagers have been building new houses, but Lin spent all of his money on the island. I am glad his persistence finally paid off, and it's good to know Dasheng is relieving him."
In order to achieve their "green island dream", being financially strapped was only part of the problem while the barren land and poor weather also impeded them in many ways. Although Lin and his son have planted more than 300,000 trees on the island, only a third of them survived the island's harsh soil conditions.
"He was crying for the whole afternoon, when a typhoon blew down more than 2,000 trees on the island in 1999," wrote Xu in his field investigation report.
"If it wasn't for old Lin there would not be any trees or plants on the island, which would eventually lead to land desertification or soil erosion," said Chuiyi Lin. "It will be very hot in the summer, not only on the island, but our village will be affected by the heat."
Planting trees on uninhabited islands like E'yuyu, not only improves the environmental conditions on the island itself and surrounding areas, but also contributes to greater biodiversity, which is crucial to ecosystem productivity.
Through the Lins' hard work, E'yuyu has become a heaven for crabs and egrets – a scene unimaginable to locals 20 years ago.
"The Lins' project is interesting because there are many uninhibited islands in Xiamen. Their first-hand experience is helpful and can be repeated in terms of protecting the environment on these islands," said Xing Tang, a reporter from Southeast Express who went to the island with Xiang Xu.
Tang's line was echoed by Jiangshen Cai, an officer from the publicity department in Xiamen's Xiang'an District, who believed elder Lin and his son "are on the right track by seeking cooperation with NGOs and incorporating volunteers from universities or corporations into the cause."
E'yuyu Island is now an "extracurricular practice base" for students at Xiamen University, according to Cai.
Lin and his son have invested RMB 150,000 (USD 23,640) into the project so far. Speaking of their biggest challenges at the moment, Dasheng said they need another RMB 320,000 (USD 50,432) to fix the infrastructure – for instance, building a new pier on the island, to procure mangrove tree seeds as well as to plant them, and to print educational booklets in an effort to promote environmental protection on uninhabited islands near Xiamen.
"What intrigued me about this project, besides their persistence and the possible duplication to other islands in this area, is that Dasheng actually organized a forest-themed educational tour for environmental volunteers," said Xu in his report, "It is a good way to communicate with the general public to raise awareness of the environmental issues."
"Through my brief yet pleasant encounter with the Lins - two genuine environmentalists who have been working under harsh conditions with the spirit of perseverance, I now understand that the 'building a better world' responsibility rests with every single one of us. I am convinced, after my investigation on the island, that CEGC will be an inspiration to more people, who will eventually dedicate themselves to environmental protection. "
"We are looking forward to seeing its influence growing exponentially with the help of grants like CEGC and public communications and promotion via popular micro-blogging sites," Xu added.
|E'yuyu Island from a distance.
||The beach with the mangrove forest in the background.
||The island is a practice base for students from Xiamen University.|