Ascension Island, in the South Atlantic (source)
It seems Darwin was a permaculturist!
In his days globetrotting aboard HMS Beagle, Darwin set in motion the transformation of a dead, volcanic island rock – Ascension Island, described by nearby islanders as "a cinder" – into a green, rain-creating oasis. How did he do it?
Ascension was an arid island, buffeted by dry trade winds from southern Africa. Devoid of trees at the time of Darwin and Hooker’s visits, the little rain that did fall quickly evaporated away.
Egged on by Darwin, in 1847 Hooker advised the Royal Navy to set in motion an elaborate plan. With the help of Kew Gardens – where Hooker’s father was director – shipments of trees were to be sent to Ascension.
The idea was breathtakingly simple. Trees would capture more rain, reduce evaporation and create rich, loamy soils. The "cinder" would become a garden.
So, beginning in 1850 and continuing year after year, ships started to come. Each deposited a motley assortment of plants from botanical gardens in Europe, South Africa and Argentina.
Soon, on the highest peak at 859m (2,817ft), great changes were afoot. By the late 1870s, eucalyptus, Norfolk Island pine, bamboo, and banana had all run riot. – BBC
And he did it by breaking what is to some a cardinal rule, the rule of not using non-native plant species. (This island never had any ‘natives’, as it came into existence from being vomited up out of the ocean through volcanic activity.)
Dr Dave Wilkinson is an ecologist at Liverpool John Moores University, who has written extensively about Ascension Island’s strange ecosystem.
He first visited Ascension in 2003.
"I remember thinking, this is really weird," he told the BBC.
"There were all kinds of plants that don’t belong together in nature, growing side by side. I only later found out about Darwin, Hooker and everything that had happened," he said.
Dr Wilkinson describes the vegetation of "Green Mountain" – as the highest peak is now known – as a "cloud forest". The trees capture sea mist, creating a damp oasis amid the aridity.
However, this is a forest with a difference. It is totally artificial. – BBC
Imagine what could happen if people could see the earth-transforming potential evidenced here – and take up the urgent challenge and joy of utilising intelligent plant assembly to create productive food forests everywhere!
Dr. Wilkinson seems to be excited:
"What it tells us is that we can build a fully functioning ecosystem through a series of chance accidents or trial and error."
In effect, what Darwin, Hooker and the Royal Navy achieved was the world’s first experiment in "terra-forming". They created a self-sustaining and self-reproducing ecosystem in order to make Ascension Island more habitable. – BBC
Have you ever tried to instill a concept in a child or adult, and got excited to observe an apparent spark of realisation in their eyes, just to see your excitement suddenly dissipate when the person speaks… when you realise that ‘spark’ was totally off base? Unfortunately Dr. Wilkinson appears to have come to a remarkable conclusion – the island’s cobbled-together eco-system should be studied, not for re-greening all the dead spaces we’ve created on the Earth, but for colonising Mars instead.
Wilkinson thinks that the principles that emerge from that experiment could be used to transform future colonies on Mars. In other words, rather than trying to improve an environment by force, the best approach might be to work with life to help it "find its own way".
Believe me Dr. Wilkinson – if you got out the gardening gloves and put a thousand spaceship loads of mixed plants on the red rock, you will not a habitable planet make.
How about people take more notice of such discoveries to do something real and viable, right here on terra firma? And to the BBC – please… for everyone’s sake – get with the program….
- The Biology of Global Warming
- Greening the Desert
- The Development of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration
- A Call to Large Scale Earth Healing and Lessons from the Loess Plateau