Conserving Mangroves in Guimaras
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For an island that is surrounded with a dense marine life, Guimaras promises to be a model for marine sustainability and conservation.
On the annual Earth Day, the Guimaras Environment and Natural Resources Office (GENRO) hosted activities for the conservation of mangroves last month in the town of San Isidro in the southeastern municipality of Sibunag.
Together with mangrove growers, fisher folks and farmers, my daughter Luna and I participated in the talks and mangrove planting, headed by GENRO and by Dr. Miguel D. Fortes, a passionate marine expert from the University of the Philippines in Diliman.
Issues Concerning the Mangroves
Amid the receding tides, the mangroves become the favorite playground of diverse animal species. Cute colorful crabs graze in hordes and dig holes into the plantings, where sea grass and algae get entangled to and turn into bacteria, while farm-friendly animals like goats, cows and carabaos rely on its leaves for nourishment.
These, along with people stepping on the plantings and the harmful pollutants emitted by factories, as Dr. Fortes said, are factors that are needed to be addressed in order to sustain the mangroves.
On top of this, Dr. Fortes stressed that proper mangrove planting should be given importance, as it is the major path to the sustenance of the mangroves.
He said that planting seedlings should be avoided when seaweeds, especially the Sargassum species, are in their peak because they entangle the plantings, they decay and turn into plant-killing bacteria when the tide recedes and they get strong sun exposure, plus they weigh down on the plantings, adding to the high mortality.
Dr. Fortes also said that understanding the area and the kind of species that are suitable to it should be done first before planting. He added that adherence to correct procedures and regular monitoring of the most critical factors (i.e., water levels, grazers, etc.), as well as adoption of practices from other places should be regarded carefully, as every site has its own unique conditions and requirements in mangroves restoration.
While a more practical approach is also needed, Dr. Fortes added that mangroves should be allowed to thrive on their own without external subsidies and artificial help from us, humans.
Through these proper mangrove practices, the ecosystem and the community gain more benefits. Thus, the reasons for restoring mangroves are met, such as protecting the fishpond and the coast and raising the mangroves efficiently in order to deliver the required quality and quantity of timber assigned by the DENR who has endorsed and financed them.
After the talks, we walked to the nearby mangrove coast and planted around 150 seedlings.
Around the coast was a family of carabaos resting under the trees and a declining image of mangroves with thick roots surfacing from the ground. Dr. Fortes said that this evidence of erosion has been a result of stronger winds and bigger waves.
Thus, on the muddy side of the cove, we planted bakawan mangrove seedlings, and at the opposite end where the substrate was more sandy and gravelly, we planted some bungalon and pagatpat species.
When we have finished planting all the seedlings, we moved to barangay San Lorenzo for an ocular visit of the Marine Protected Area, established by the Yeosu-funded project.
Further Commitments for Mangroves Conservation
There in the coast of barangay San Lorenzo was a long bamboo footbridge that was stable enough to walk on. There was also a guardhouse, as well as marker buoys and sinkers that were near completion.
The next day, Dr. Fortes and four officers of GENRO visited three other mangrove sites in order to monitor growth and survival of the seedlings, which have been planted earlier.
The aim of the activity was to assess whether the areas of the mangroves are getting smaller or expanding. The results of the project will be incorporated in the Senior High School curricula of the Department of Education in Guimaras.
As a passionate marine expert, Dr. Fortes aims to return to Guimaras Island more often and provide proper education to the mangrove protectors for its sustainability.
After this mangrove-filled afternoon, we headed back to Zemkamps Chalet for a rewarding rest.