Picture an airplane sitting at the bottom of the ocean floor — wings covered in rust, its cavernous insides a new home for fish to swim through. That sight can only mean one thing: some degree of tragedy. But not always. It’s not every day, after all, that people intentionally choose to sink an airplane.

However, this is exactly what one country pulled off as part of a genius scheme that no one ever could have predicted. Although it wasn’t the most orthodox decision, the complex operation still has people applauding, even if they are just overcome with pure awe.

The Kingdom of Bahrain is an archipelagic country located in the Persian Gulf. Attached by bridge to Saudi Arabia and only a short trip away from Qatar, Bahrain has an interesting history — and perhaps an even more fascinating present.

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Despite its travails, Bahrain remains a beautiful urban paradise on the water. Because of its proximity to Saudi Arabia, many flock there for the less stringent rules, including the allowance of alcohol and nightclubs.

Bahrain 101

Today, the nation of almost 1.5 million people is wholly independent. For many decades, beginning in the late 1800s, it was a British protectorate with limited sovereignty over its own rules and policies.

Flickr – Dennis Sylvester Herd

Back then, pearls were Bahrain’s most valuable commodity. The majority of the country’s men were once employed in this industry. Not only were the pearls bountiful, they were of the highest quality around.

Unfortunately, scarcity measures during the Great Depression of the 1930s put an end to the economic benefits of these graceful wares. The country needed to find something else to depend on.

ABDULLA MOHAMMED AL KHAN / BAHRAIN HOUSE OF PHOTOGRAPHY

In 1931, they struck gold — well, actually, they struck oil. The discovery of petroleum led to an entire overhaul of the Bahraini economy. However, no finite resource can be relied upon forever, so soon Bahrain had to craft a another money-making scheme.

Collection Photographic Archives – University of Louisville

Forty years later, in 1971, Bahrain finally achieved independence. Ever since then, the country has been trying to improve its economy through tourism, an effort that has created some pretty unusual circumstances…

City Centre Bahrain

This brings us to the extremely drastic step the kingdom took in order to get tourists to flock there: it dropped a seventy meter long Boeing 747 into the ocean, and then stepped back to see what would happen.

The first thing that happened was that the country broke a pretty insane record. Bahrain is now responsible for having dropped the largest intentionally sunken aircraft ever placed into the ocean. However, there was more to its scheme than just that record.

Kingdom of Bahrain – Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism

The dropping of the plane was only the first step in a much larger plan to achieve greatness. Once government officials got this master plan in their heads, they just couldn’t focus on anything else. The mission needed to be completed.

Middle East Institute

The Kingdom of Bahrain set out to create the largest underwater amusement park in existence. The sunken plane would serve as the main attraction, given its hulking mass, but it was far from the only oddity curious visitors could peruse.

Instagram – Dive Bahrain

There would also be an entire model of a pearl merchant’s house, an ode to the economy of days gone by. We can only imagine that the submerged structures will be as eerie to swim through as they are beautiful.

Instagram – Dive Bahrain

This grand undertaking wasn’t just meant to boost tourism and aid the growing economy, however. The creation of this underwater theme park serves a much more noble purpose.

The park, known as Dive Bahrain, will help to protect the country’s natural environment and rich resources by providing a habitat wherein biodiversity will be able to flourish.

Instagram – Dive Bahrain

The plane, the merchant’s house replica, and other sculptures will all serve as artificial coral reefs, structures that are becoming increasingly common as environmental issues threaten the existence of naturally occurring reefs.

Heightening levels of coastal development, growing amounts of sediment in the water, and increasing temperatures have coalesced to create the perfect storm of factors that have killed off much of Bahrain and the world’s natural coral reefs.

Caitlin Seaview Survey

Because of this dearth, one might think that the introduction of the artificial reefs is a foolproof plan. However, some experts have taken issue with the plane, particularly due to the composition of its materials.

Professor Adriana Humanes stated, “Their materials…can be subject to corrosion, [passing] heavy metals into the seawater and affecting the surrounding marine organisms” and that “loss of structural integrity…[could] potentially [affect] marine life living in the area or becoming a safety threat to visitor divers.”

YouTube – Adriana Humanes

Authorities have ostensibly looked into these concerns. Experienced divers have already toured the site multiple times, attempting to ensure that it remains safe for expert and more casual divers alike.

Great Divers

This monumental, record-breaking step that the Kingdom of Bahrain has taken will certainly go down in the history books. They knew from past examples that incredible efforts can help restore the environment.

Wikimedia Commons – Heffloaf

Passionate individuals all over the world were joining the fray. Sebastião Salgado, a Brazilian photojournalist, and social documentary photographer wrote travel photography books that highlighted injustices across the globe. Even at age 75, he never backed down from a project through which he could make a difference.

Although his work was not exactly easy on the eyes, his photos were incredibly powerful, telling stories about war, famine, poverty, disease, and violence. The spectator only found relief in Salgado’s nature photos, which portrayed the power of the Earth itself.

His wife, Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado, wrote and edited the context to his photography books and produced a documentary about her husband’s work called The Salt Of The Earth. Together, they saw all there was to see — or so they’d thought.

Back in 1994, the couple spent months documenting the Rwandan genocide. Understandably, the horror left them feeling broken, and when the war was over, all they wanted was to rest up in their hometown in Brazil.

After having been on the road for years on end, seeing Minas Gerais, Brazil, felt like huge relief at first. That was until the Salgados began to notice the change in the landscape around them; their home hardly looked familiar anymore.

The trees outside of their land had vanished, and all that remained were empty stretches of dirt. While this region is not part of the Amazon rainforest, its flora is supposed to be quite similar. Clearly, that was no longer the case.

Deforestation has plagued South America for decades now, as the demand for wood just keeps on rising. In fact, Brazil specifically has seen the highest deforestation rates of natural forests in the continent, and most of it is done illegally.

Between 2000 and 2008, both legal and illegal deforestation turned Brazil into a shell of its former self, with satellite imaging picking up less green year after year. Sebastião and his wife recognized this — and it broke their hearts.

“The land was as sick as I was – everything was destroyed,” Sebastião told The Guardian in 2015. “Only about 0.5% of the land was covered in trees.” Without drastic intervention, he knew, that number would likely soon be 0.

“Suddenly, my wife had a fabulous idea to replant this forest,” Sebastião recalled. It was a tall order, one the couple wasn’t even sure was possible. Could they even put a dent in deforestation’s impact? They knew they had to try.

So they gathered all the manpower they could get and went to work. The plan was to gather the remaining seeds from the local region and carefully plant them, one by one, to get natural fauna to return to the area as well.

Every day for years on end, the Salgados and a few volunteers woke up, put on their gear, and worked for hours to undo the damage and rebuild the forest that once adorned this province.

Trees and plants needing a little extra TLC were grown in several greenhouses the Salgados built. There, Lelia looked after them with the help of a local gardening expert. The more flora that survived and grew, the more land they could recover.

And as time went by, seeds grew roots, roots grew branches, and branches grew leaves. It was difficult for the hard workers to not see their progress overnight, but after several months, their blood, sweat, and tears began to pay off.

As the trees grew, Sebastião felt peace. “All the insects and birds and fish returned and, thanks to this increase of the trees,” he said, “I, too, was reborn – this was the most important moment.”

“We need to listen to the words of the people on the land,” Sebastião explained. “Nature is the Earth and it is other beings and if we don’t have some kind of spiritual return to our planet, I fear that we will be compromised.”

Over two decades, the 1,700-acre forest was almost completely restored by planting nearly 300 different types of trees and plants, which caused a whopping 172 of bird species to return to the area.

Along with the birds, 33 endangered mammal species and 15 endangered reptile species were welcomed back into their native home. This meant the world for animals like the orangutan, who suffered greatly from deforestation.

The Salgados’ work was unbelievable, and they proved small groups can make a huge difference. Planting more trees, plants, and flowers is a fantastic place to start, even if you don’t have many resources!

This is particularly true in places of drought and poverty. On the Indian island of Majuli — home to over 140 villages — one man worked by himself to create a dramatic change.

See, 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. 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 large embankments were built up the river to protect larger towns from flooding. This didn’t 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.

Jitu Kalita

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.

William Douglas McMaster

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 do 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.

William Douglas McMaster

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.

William Douglas McMaster

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!

Bijitdutta

The forest was rightfully dubbed Molai Forest. He said that planting trees became much easier once he could seed from the trees that already exist in his forest. Still, Jadav faced struggles each day…

William Douglas McMaster

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.

William Douglas McMaster

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.”

William Douglas McMaster

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.

William Douglas McMaster

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.”

101 India