The Indian island of Majuli is in terrible danger! In fact, the situation is so grave that scientists fear the island might cease to exist in the near future. That’s right, an entire piece of land could just vanish!
And in the early ’70s, one 16-year-old inhabitant saw the place he called home pulling off this vanishing act right before his eyes. So without the help of any other villagers, he concocted a simple-yet-genius plan that he hoped would keep his home on the map…
The Indian island of Majuli is located within the Brahmaputra river system in Northeast India. Over 140 villages have been established on the island, and over 150,000 people call Majuli home. But these are not the only things that make this island special…
Majuli is actually the world’s largest river island. These special islands are really just big sand bars that form throughout a riverbed; sometimes the sand bars are so large, people can actually live on them — that’s the case with Majuli.
But, in the heat of a river’s current, the island changes shape and size frequently, which poses a threat to inhabitants. In fact, over the last 70 years, the island has shrunk by more than half it’s original size. At the turn of the 20th century, Majuli was approximately 340 square miles, but as of 2014, the island is only 135 square miles.
Why the change? Because during the monsoon season (July to September) large embankments were built up the river to protect larger towns from flooding. This does not allow the riverbanks to naturally flood, and therefore directs all of the excess water down the river towards Majuli.
As the river water erodes the island, space for the 150,000 inhabitants shrinks. Since 1991, over 35 villages have been washed away, forcing villagers to leave the only home they ever knew.
Indian authorities are concerned that within the next 20 years the entire island of Majuli will be completely submerged and the 140 villages left will be lost forever. If they don’t do something about it now, their fears will become a reality.
The people aren’t the only ones being affected either. Animals are being severely affected by the intense flooding, resulting in major casualties. In fact, the snake population alone has dropped by 45 percent over the last five years!
When the river flooded the island, it would pick up the snakes and carry them downstream. The water dumped the snakes onto tree-less sandbars surrounding Majuli, leaving them exposed to the excessive heat and the harsh Indian sun.
One man in particular, Jadav Payeng from the Mising tribe of Majuli, grew up watching the island shrink. He watched villages wash away, he watched animals torn from their homes, and he watched the villagers grow more and more concerned.
As a young boy, Jadav loved nature, animals (yes, even the snakes), and anything that grew. This impacted him from a very young age and sparked his interest in environmental activism and forestry conservation.
He was determined to save the island and not just himself, but for his family and tribe. So at the age of 16, he decided to dedicate his life work to doing just that: saving Majuli. How he did it was no small feat…
One day in 1979, he started planting trees. He managed to get seeds and made his way to a large, barren area on Majuli. He dug a small hole using a stick, dropped them in the hole, and left the rest to nature.
He knew that planting one tree wouldn’t do much of anything, so day after day he returned and planted as many trees as he possibly could. His hope was that the trees would grow tall with deep roots that would hold the earth in place and protect the island from erosion.
After 40 years of consistent work, he’d planted an entire forest on the island, over tens of thousands of trees. This work resulted in a forest that was far larger than the size of New York’s Central Park!
The forest was rightfully dubbed Molai Forest. He said that planting trees became much easier once he could seeds from the trees that already exist in his forest. Still, Jadav faced struggles each day…
With his forest continually growing, animals returned to the area. Elephants, Bengal tigers, and rhinos to name a few now call this area of Majuli home. With the return of animals, Jadav said poachers became a problem once more.
Jadav said, “All species on this planet are animals, including humans. There are no monsters in nature except for humans. Humans consume everything until there is nothing left.”
In 2015, he was awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian honor in India. Additionally, he was recognized by many other local Indian establishments for dedicating his life to the conversation of Majuli.
Still, Jadav was frustrated by the lack of real help he has received. He suggested planting coconut trees because they’re strong and straight, which would help anchor the soil, and coconut harvesting would boost the economy, all within five years. But sadly no one adopted his proposal.
Jadav refused to give up. He had dreams of seeing Majuli return to the lush green forest it once was before humans so drastically altered it. He believed that he could save the island of Majuli. He stated, “I will continue to plant until my last breath.”
All it takes is one person’s actions to make a major change. Hopefully others will adopt his ideas and help save Majuli.