Since Super Typhoon Yolanda devastated the mangroves in central Visayas, the government has allocated P347 million, and has then increased to P1 billion recently, intended to rehabilitate mangroves in coastal areas.
As the deaths of thousands and loss of livelihood were extensively documented by the local and international media, the extent of destruction in mangrove ecosystems was underrated. Surprisingly, the government has allocated such an amount.
Two teams were simultaneously deployed in Eastern Samar to assess the damages incurred by mangroves. There were over seven sites in six municipalities. In Leyte, there were five municipalities and two cities. These areas were assessed for seven days in January and again in March.
There were 17 participants from different non-government organizations, including the Haribon Foundation. In the academe, groups from known institutions such as University of the Philippines(UP)-Diliman, UP-Tacloban, Ateneo de Manila University and La Salle University joined the inspections. There were also participants from different communities and employees from the Department of Environments and Natural Resounces (DENR) in Region 6.
The specific locations that were surveyed included Quinapondan, Guiuan (Bagongbanwa Island and Maliwaliw Island), Salcedo, General MacArthur, Hernani and Lawaan in Eastern Samar, and Ormoc City, Palompon, Isabel, Merida, Carigara, Palo, and Tacloban City in Leyte.
We assessed mangrove damage and recovery potential using the “Mangrove Community Structure” and by noting the degree of defoliation and other damages that were categorized as “intact,” “partially damaged,” or “totally damaged.”
Observations and recommendations
Most of the mangrove stands in the 14 locations showed partial to minimal damage, based on the presence of new shoots on defoliated branches and on branchless trunks of trees, to almost none at all. The mangroves also showed a recovery potential that was reflected by a few to numerous seedlings and saplings present. Completely defoliated or bare trees and branches had some shoots or leaves appearing as early as two to four months when the survey was done.
The most severely damaged sites were those that suffered a direct hit, including Brgy.
Batang in Hernani and Maliwaliw Island in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, and those that were in the path of the strongest storm surge—Brgy. 83 A in Tacloban City. There were some plots in these sites that showed 100 percent mangrove mortality.
There were other factors determined that caused the destruction of mangroves. Some of these factors include the encroachment of settlements of marginalized coastal dwellers, mangrove conversion to ponds, conversion of areas to nipa plantations, and reclamation in Carigara.
Mangroves are bio-shields that provide storm protection to coastal communities and habitats. In the process, they may sustain damage but they also recover. In affected areas, a total of only 100-200 hectares are in need of replanting.
The participants have concluded that the major intervention for the Eastern Samar-Leyte mangroves is protection of the following: damaged but recovering stands, of natural stands, and of pristine, old growth forests.
Protection is also needed by enforcing the law and putting a stop to pond development, especially in Ormoc and the continuous conversion of mangrove areas to land areas especially seen in Cariaga.
There is minimal need for mangrove planting in a few sites, such as in Hernani, Maliwalaw Island, and Brgy. 83 A in Tacloban City. All of these cover less than 200 hectares.
If the government intends to launch mangrove planting, this should be science-based in terms of correct species, sites and season. These recommendations refer to existing mangroves that form natural greenbelts.
The coastal greenbelts are made up of mangroves and beach forests. Based on scientific findings, the assessment group recommends a minimum of 100 meters, which coincides with the requirement of the law.
Re-establishment of greenbelts with Inter-tidal areas that are too steep or exposed for mangrove growth, and the supra-tidal areas occupied by settlements and resorts, require construction of temporary breakwaters to protect newly planted mangrove seedlings, and resettlement of coastal dwellings and beach resorts to inland areas.
Spending P1 billion gov’t funds
The P 1 billion the government is planning to release for new mangrove planting in the Yolanda-affected provinces is misguided and even risky. Based on experience, the participants in the program had cleared many recovering mangroves just so they can plant new ones.
There are better ways to spend such amount through these science-based activities: resettlements for coastal dwellers with sturdy houses, services and amenities, planting of beach forest trees in the areas vacated by settlers, establishment of beach forest nurseries to support the planting, ground assessments for mangrove areas not yet surveyed, mangrove protection that should include law enforcement and ecopark development, mangrove planting and rehabilitation in the sites mentioned, and capacity building through mangrove training courses for stakeholders tasked to protect and rehabilitate the mangrove areas.
The team supports the rehabilitation initiatives especially when they give importance to the restoration of ecological services.
However, the rehabilitation fund could go a long way—only if used wisely.
The following individuals and organizations contributed to the opinions in this article: Jurgenne Primavera, PhD, Pew Fellow and Zoological Society of London-Philippines; Margarita dela Cruz, UP Tacloban and GDFI; Rene Rollon, PhD, UP Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology; Maria Belinda dela Paz, Haribon Foundation; Hazel Consunji, Yale Environmental Leadership and Training Institute; Maricar Samson, PhD, Dela Salle University; Severino Salmo 3rd, PhD, Ateneo de Manila University; Betty May Villamayor, UP Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology; Amado Blanco, Zoological Society of London-Philippines; Christian Montilijao, Zoological Society of London-Philippines; and Kryzl Maranan, Conservation International.