The small Indian island of Majuli is facing the real possibility of extinction at the hands of mother nature. The fast-moving waters of the Brahmaputra River have been tearing away at the island’s river banks for years now, and the natural effects of erosion have become increasingly dangerous for the local population. Scientists have even estimated that the island’s total size has decreased by an incredible 60% just in the last one hundred years alone!
However, there is hope. Back in the early 1970’s, a man from the island named Jadav Payeng noticed that his homeland was slowly washing away right before his eyes – so he decided to take action…
(Do you enjoy learning about science and nature? Want to see more stories like this? Be sure to take a moment to leave us a like, and then don’t forget to subscribe for more!)
Only 150,000 people call the island of Majuli home, but in fact, it’s actually the world’s largest river island according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Majuli and its surrounding islands are really just big sand bars that form throughout the riverbed, but Majuli in particular happens to be large enough for people to also live on it, so local villagers decided to do just that.
Unfortunately, in the heat of the river’s harsh current, the island changes shape and size frequently – posing a constant threat to the inhabitants. At the turn of the 20th century, Majuli was approximately 340 square miles in size, but as of 2014, Indian authorities are concerned that within as little as 20 years, the entire island of Majuli could be completely submerged underwater.
Part of the problem is that during monsoon season (from July to September) large embankments are built up the river to protect the larger towns from flooding. This does not allow the riverbanks to naturally flood, and therefore directs all of the excess water down the river and into the path of Majuli. Since the year 1991, over 35 villages have been washed away by the current – forcing some people to leave the only homes they ever knew.
The people aren’t the only ones being affected, either. The island’s animal population is also severely affected by the intense flooding, and many just simply can not survive the conditions. In fact, the snake population alone has dropped by a stunning 45 percent just over the last five years! Whenever the river floods the island, it picks up the snakes and carries them all the way downstream, 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 more and more every year. He saw villages wash away, animals be torn from their homes, and the increasing panic of the villagers as they grew more and more concerned. Jadav became determined to save the island not just for himself, but for his family and his tribe as well. So, at the age of 16, he decided to dedicate his life’s work to doing just that.
One day in 1979, he began the conservation process by just simply planting some trees. Jadav had managed to gather some seeds, so he made his way to a large, barren section of the island. He then dug a small hole using a stick, dropped the seeds into the ground, and left the rest to mother nature.
He knew that planting just a few trees wouldn’t do much of anything, so day after day, he returned to the same barren section of land to plant as many trees as possible. His hope was that the trees would grow to be tall and strong, with deep roots reaching into the ground that would hold the earth in place.
Incredibly, after 40 years of consistent work, Jadav had planted an entire forest on the island with tens of thousands of trees! His tireless work eventually resulted in a forest that’s even bigger than New York City’s Central Park!
In 2015, Jadav was awarded the “Padma Shri”, the fourth highest civilian honor in the country of India. Additionally, he was recognized by many other Indian establishments for dedicating his life to the conservation of Majuli. Unfortunately though, he still faces many challenges when it comes to saving the disappearing island.
Jadav remains frustrated by what he perceives as a lack of any real help with his efforts. He’s recently suggested that Majuli begin planting coconut trees because they’re strong and straight, and they could even help the island’s economy. Sadly, no one has adopted his proposal as of yet.
Still, this story proves that all it takes is one person’s actions to make a major change. Hopefully, someday soon, others will start to adopt some of Jadav’s ideas, and a serious effort will be made to save the island of Majuli.