Rape of mangroves

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

IT’S often the case – some environmentally sensitive spot takes the beating from a development project and not one government agency sees it fit to act because the no one has formally filed a case.

In this case, the barangay council of Libuak in the Island Garden City of Samal is worried about the manner by which workers of a fishpond that is being rehabilitated on their beach is killing the long stretch of mangrove seedlings they have been planting since the other year as part of their rehabilitation program of a thick mangrove forest further south of the beach.

They have not met the fishpond owner, said Barangay Captain Jose M. Ordaneza with his five barangay councilors – Romeo P. Navarro Jr., Sammy M. Arak, Rosalio B. Tampus, Nacer Jovani Acalal, and Eugene R. Largo -- in a meeting with Sun.Star Davao two weeks ago.

All they know is that it’s someone from Davao City.

“Wala pa man mi nakakita ni ana nila (We have not met them),” barangay captain Ordaneza said.

“Mga tag-iya sa fishpond, nanguha og bato para alihan ilang fishpond (Coral rocks were collected for use in the concrete walls of the fishpond),” Kagawad Navarro said. Flat-bottomed boats used to bring in quarried white sand from the beach ploughed over their seedlings, killing several and leaving a wide barren swath, he added.

In several instances, adult mangrove trees were uprooted using the backhoe that is parked right at the fishpond site. Photos of the mangrove trees being uprooted to clear the fishpond area has been shared to Sun.Star Davao.

The barangay council already reported what happened to the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro), they said, but they were only told to watch over the area and report whatever illegal activity they see.

The Cenro, they said, have visited the area twice, but nothing has been done. Nor have they been sought out to discuss their problem.

Moreso, an outpost the council set up on the waters was destroyed by the caretakers of the fishpond who claimed the beach area is part of their property.

“Wala man na sila ni agi og barangay, unsaon man nila ma-claim ang foreshore (They did not get approval for any foreshore lease from us so how can they claim they own the foreshore),” Kagawad Acalal said.

Sought out for his reaction to the barangay council’s complaint, Samal Cenro Edgar F. Arellano said, “Ang barangay council ay pwedeng mag-execute ng affidavit of complaint and file a case against sataong involved sa mangrove destruction.”

“Ang office naming sa City Enro ang mag-assist and secure certification of no issuance of development permit of that particular area,” he added.

Barangay Captain Ordaneza said that when the Cenro personnel visited their area, they were not given such advice.

“Walay advise ang Cenro kung kinsay mu-handle sa kaso. Wala nalang pud to (They did not advise us on who will handle the case, and so we let it pass),” he said.

More than just mangroves

Incidentally, Libuak is one of ten barangays under the Samal Island Protected Landscape and Seascape.

This means, the problem about a fishpond owner causing the destruction of a swath of mangrove seedlings on its coast is more than just about the killing of a few seedlings but is covered by two national laws: The Fisheries Code (Republic Act 8550) and the National Integrated Protected Areas System (Nipas) Act (RA 7586).

Tourism Assistant Secretary Arturo P. Boncato Jr. said the Department of Tourism (DOT) recently convened the Davao Region Ecotourism Committee where the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) officially turned over its leadership to the DOT over the region’s protected areas, namely, 1) Malagos Watershed Reservation 2) Samal Island Protected Landscape and Seascape 3) Mt. Apo Natural Park 4) Mainit Hot Springs 5) Mati Protected Landscape 6) Baganga Protected Landscape 7) Aliwagwag Protected Landscape 8) Mabini Protected Landscape and Seascape 9) Pujada Bay Protected Landscape and 10) Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary.

He identified the ten coastal barangays in Samal considered protected landscape and seascape as Caliclic, Kinawitnon, Tambo, Pichon, Villarica, Tagpopongan, Balet, San Isidro, Libuak, and Camumud, all in Babak District.

“Thus, should not be touched,” he said of the barangay’s seascape, which includes its mangrove areas.

Of note is the wide area full of debris, indicating that Barangay Libuak’s coastline is right smack on the direction of a major current. Raise the water level, and water goes right smack into the barangay. Remove the mangrove stands, then the beaches will easily be eroded.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature says, “The dense root systems of mangrove forests trap sediments flowing down rivers and off the land. This helps stabilizes the coastline and prevents erosion from waves and storms. In areas where mangroves have been cleared, coastal damage from hurricanes and typhoons is much more severe. By filtering out sediments, the forests also protect coral reefs and seagrass meadows from being smothered in sediment.”

The wide area on the beachline looks as if more than seagrass and coral reefs have been smothered by the pile of debris.

In the WWF, UN Environment Programme, and Global Environment Facility publication entitled “Building Mangrove Resilience to Climate Change”, it reads: “These trees act as nurseries for fish and invertebrate species that later live on coral reefs and in the pelagic zone, and they control aspects of water chemistry in coastal zones. They provide food, fuel and other services to human communities. And they serve as a critical buffer against storms and other extreme events. During the 2004 Asian tsunami, areas with intact mangroves suffered significantly less damage than areas where they had been cleared.”

Sought out for his view because the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) is so into protection of mangroves as it popularizes its aqua silvi project, BFAR National Director Asis G. Perez said, “Mangroves once planted cannot be cut without a permit from DENR, as mangroves at any size is considered timber.”

The aquasilviculture project is anchored on mangroves, which are home to a large variety of fish, crab, shrimp, and mollusk species.

Meaning, there is no reason to cut mangroves just to raise crabs and shrimps. Through the aquasilviculture method, production of fish for food can be done in a mangrove reforestation project.

“It is a mangrove-friendly aquaculture technique of producing fish in a watered area enclosed with net but does not allow cutting of any mangrove tree,” the BFAR further describes aquasilvi.

Even tourism holds vast interest on mangrove forests because a well-preserved mangrove forest brings in tourists.

“Places as diverse as Bonaire and offer snorkeling expeditions in and around mangroves to witness a marvelous variety of baby fish, jellyfish, and urchins against a magical background of interwoven roots delving deep into the sandy substrate. Great potential exists elsewhere for revenue generation in this manner, which values the mangroves intact and as they stand,” the WWF reported.

But with just the barangay council left to fend on its own, barely knowledgeable on how to push protection of their mangroves, the barangay council of Libuak is left to just watch as the backhoe continues to level down their trees and their beach becomes a barren stretch of debris.

“Ilana man gi anhi diri, wala man aksyon (The Cenro already visited the area, but there has been no move to stop the project),” the barangay captain said.

Incidentally, this is not the only mangrove stand that is being cleared in the region. In fact, most mangroves are being cleared for one project or another.

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