A Semarang Field Trip in Three Parts: Aquifers, Upstream Areas, and Mangroves

Blog by Jessica Okamura, University of Hawaii at Manoa Master of Urban and Regional Planning Student

November 11, 2016

I am going to share a three-part story from a set of field visits we did at the end of our visit to Semarang. These visits were part of the end of the International Conference for Regional Development.

Part 1: Refreshing  RW Aquifers

The first start of the conference site visit was the aquifer system in West Semarang.  As we arrived in RW 4, we were greeted by community leaders. The community center included a sitting area and a fish pond. They welcomed us with sweet cassava, a baked coconut snack and other home made treats.

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The head of RW 4 discussed the aquifer project and system design. Aquifers consist of fish which provides nutrients for the plants, fresh water, a pump, filter and plants.  It started approximately three years ago in 2013. The founder of the project discovered aquifers on the internet.  RW 4 hosted a aquifer festival which included guests from all over Semarang who has implemented aquifer systems. Aquifers were the best option for the neighborhood due to its affordability and the amount of space needed to grow fresh vegetables.

Globally there has been a movement to have fresh organic foods.  People may not know where or how grocery store produce is grown.  The aquifers are a good way to sustainably access fresh, healthy foods. If people cannot afford pumps, they can manually scoop water to make sure the plants receive enough food resources.  The RW seems to have developed ways to make sure people are able to maintain their own systems.


After we learned about the project we started our walking tour of the different household set ups.  The founder of the aquifer had an extravagant set up with a variety of leafy greens and herbs.

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Each of the households had different designs and some had different fish.  These foods supplement the surrounding food.  There were large papaya trees, lemongrass, rice fields and chili pepper plants.  The neighborhood still has a journey to educate its residents about implementing and maintaining aquifers and the benefits of having one.  However, they have made great strides and it seems hopeful that more aquifers will be built across Semarang.


Part 2: West Semarang Pride

During the last day of the conference, we had the opportunity to spend time in West Semarang.  The trip was slightly postponed due to a landslide.  Landslides frequently occur due to the heavy rains and soil movement.  We were able to drive past the site and see the road repair crew.

The area was hilly and less developed than East Semarang.  It was refreshing to see the lush environment, farms and green space. The kelurahan with the aquifers were located high up the hill so we were able to get a new point of view of life in Semarang.


Surprisingly there were a lot of major facilities in area we drove by.  We saw two botanical gardens, the prison and a very large gated community with mansions.  There are many great things about the west side including but not limited to the hospitality of the people, the aquifer project, the beaches along the java sea, and the mangroves.  Although it was only one day, we enjoyed our time in West Semarang.


Part 3: Mangrove Surprise

The final stop on the conference field trip was the mangrove.  The project was larger than we initially thought.  The impressive scope of the mangrove impressed us all.  It seemed to go for miles.  This was the start of many surprises.

Surprise #1.  When we finally got out of the cars we were greeted by staff with hats, lifejackets and high waterproof boots.  We were going on a boat ride!  The site visit to Kemijen and the tour of the aquifer were all done by foot.  This was the first time we were going to relax and enjoy the ride.  We got dressed in our gear, divided into four boats and started our adventure.

Surprise #2. Our four boats divided into two groups. Normally we had the safety blanket of having translators and knowing who to ask questions to.  This time we had to identify the Bahasa and English speakers ourselves.  This was a great opportunity to talk to the other conference members and get to know them.

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Surprise #3.  The first group, which had all the executives and a mix of students and conference members, planted mangroves. They got the seedlings, put them in a bag with dirt and then plopped them into the ground.  The hands on experience can never be replaced.


Surprise #4. The second group went though the entire mangrove and out towards the Java Sea.  As we stepped out of the boat people without waterproof boots sank into the squishy dark mud.  The sand on shore was dark and soft but the beach was hard.  It was completely opposite of the white soft beaches of Hawaii.

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Surprise #5. The boats came back together caught fish with gill nets.  The staff got into the water and spread their net.  The fish got caught in the net and we all untangled them and out them into a mesh pack. This technique is similar to people in the Middle East and Native Americans.  The group got to take the fish home.

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Although we didn’t it eat it was the best way to end the day.  As we left cool and wet, we said goodbyes to our fishing mangrove-planting protégés.



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