Messing Around in Boats in Quest of Endangered Trees

Sunken boat

“Believe me my young friend, There is nothing absolutely nothing worth half so much doing as simply messing about in boats.” Kenneth Graham, Wind in the Willows

Planked boat at rest on edge of Nakai Reservoir, Laos

Our team is waiting, while someone else is doing the messing about with our boat, and it does not half feel worth it. Our team of botanists, ecologists,wildlife specialists and entourage of guides, rangers and forestry representatives are perched at the edge of the Nakai Reservoir waiting to cross to the remote regions of the Annamite Mountains of Laos to find and describe the rare Chinese swamp cypress tree.

Boatmen repair engine from sunken boat, preparing to transport our team

After a week of meetings, provisioning and making additions to our international team, we are ready for the field, but we are missing a boat. The first boat is loaded and ready and the scientists are anxious to enter the mountains, but first we must cross the lake. The waterline of the narrow native craft sinks beneath piles of provisions, camping gear and mounds of scientific sampling equipment until a scant few inches peek above the waterline. We impatiently search the choppy lake for the second, but there is no sign.

Crew in boat
Loading provisions and people for our National Geographic Explorer’s expedition Laos. Photo David McGuire

We have driven as far as roads allow and must reach the inland wilderness by boat in quest of the Asian swamp cypress tree (Glyptostrobus pensilis). Called the Mai Heng Sam by the Laotian (Lao) locals, the swamp cypress has been drastically reduced through over harvest, habitat loss from agriculture, and by poachers. We now rely on the locally-built, wood-planked boats to transport us across the lake and upriver —> Read More