Among the many places on the planet affected by climate change, one of the largest rivers in India named the Brahmaputra has seen increased water flows in recent years that continually flood the banks each year.

These vasts amounts of water flood whole towns, stripping the land of agriculture and the means to make a living by its inhabitants. Near the town of Jorhat there is a river island called Majuli. Home to more than 100,000 people, Majuli has faced continual erosion that threatens its very existence. 

Since 1979, the island has been gifted with a certain type of human savior. His name is Jadav Payeng and over the past nearly 40 years he has singlehandedly planted enough trees on the island to encompass 550 hectares. Central Park in New York, meanwhile, is 341 hectares. He calls it “his forest.”

“This place is full of trees,” Payeng told filmmakers as part of a film called Forest Man that won best documentary at the American Pavilion Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014. The short documentary was recently posted by National Geographic’s Short Film Showcase. 

Each day, Payeng gathers saplings he grows at home with help from his family and ventures into the forest to plant new trees. Today the forest is home to elephants (115 for three months per year), rhinos, deers and tigers.

“When the trees grew big it was difficult for me to protect them,” Payeng said. “The biggest threat came from men. They would have destroyed the forest for economic gain and the animals would be vulnerable again.”