Sasmuan -- Mobile technology can in fact help save the environment.
This as the Sasmuan Bangkung Malapad Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (SBMCHEA) in this town is now benefitting from the advances made in mobile technology and is now being applied to the preservation of mangroves inside the critical habitat area.
This as mobile companies Ericsson and Smart formalized an agreement with the local government of Sasmuan for the Connected Mangroves project.
Prior to this, Ericsson and Smart had interviewed the community leaders, where the community’s plans for Bangkung Malapad to become a full-fledged ecotourism site were shared and discussed.
For Ericsson, the final decision to choose Sasmuan as the site for its first Connected Mangroves project in the Philippines was based on the site’s importance as a flyway for migratory birds, its role in keeping the local ecosystem healthy, and its potential to act as a natural barrier that would keep the shoreline of Sasmuan protected from flooding and storms.
“We also found it very encouraging that the local government unit had a concrete plan for the area, as well as manpower and resources dedicated towards the execution of their plans,” Ellen Alarilla, Ericsson Program Manager for Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility, SE Asia and Oceania, said in an interview.
Located along Sasmuan town’s coastal frontier is an island that locals refer to as Bangkung Malapad (Wide Bench). The area was formed from volcanic sediments which were carried by water currents into the area by the mighty Pasak River, which drains towards Sasmuan.
While the area is technically part of Sasmuan’s coastal village of Batang Dos, the island is in fact at the frontier of Pampanga Bay which forms part of the greater enclosed sea of Manila Bay.
This island is now a focal point of conservation due to the fact that it now hosts some 13 hectares of fully grown mangroves and has been identified as a layover destination for thousands of migratory birds.
The area also serves as temporary home to more than 80 species of migratory birds from winter countries. With the recent influx of tourists that are attracted to the serene beauty of the area, aside from the seasonal birdwatchers, local officials have realized the island’s potential and the urgent need to protect it.
Connected Mangroves Project
The Connected Mangroves project uses soil and water sensors to measure data such as soil conductivity, temperature, water salinity, water level, and water temperature in the area.
Alarilla said that the sensors then send this data in near real time via Smart’s mobile network, to a dashboard that is available to anyone with internet access. There are also cameras included in the solution, which take photos every few minutes and sends these images to the same dashboard. The whole solution is solar-powered.
The data could then be utilized by the local government in the preparation for studies and research as well as mangrove assessment conducted in the island with the technical assistance of Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
The projects shed light on data in identifying factors that contribute to growth, or conversely, brings about destruction, in habitat.
Smart has been planting trees, including mangroves, since 2008 as part of an old program called SmartTrees. This is the company’s way of addressing climate change and deforestation and offsetting the company’s environmental impacts. For Smart, this means engaging its employees and business partners in a massive initiative that is easy to implement, affordable and makes a mark in the move to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Mangroves are an important ecosystem that provides a home to fish and crustaceans, which in turn attract other wildlife to the area, such as birds.
Mangroves also provide protection to the coastline by acting as natural barriers in times of flooding and storms. They also have an important role to play in carbon sequestration, and thus help to address climate change, according to Alarilla.
Alarilla said that 2G and 3G telecommunications technology is utilized by the sensors to communicate and send data to the dashboard. The dashboard itself is stored in a cloud server.
Monitoring the sensors and data is tasked upon the local government unit. Aside from the training provided by Smart & Ericsson, the Technical Working Group of Bangkung Malapad had regular meetings to ensure the sustainability of the project.
Alarilla said that two personnel from the local government unit were assigned to the project site to manage and monitor the sensors. Recently, Smart and Ericsson employees took their part in conservation by planting mangroves in front of the sensor to check the efficiency of the sensors installed in the area.
“The project is still ongoing – Ericsson and Smart employee volunteers joined forces to plant 200 mangrove propagules in November 2018. To date, about 70 percent of the planted propagules are thriving,” Alarilla added.
The Municipal Government of Sasmuan regularly hosts cleanup activities in the area in coordination with the coastal communities, the DENR, Provincial Government of Pampanga and other environmental stakeholders.
In 2012, some 3,000 mangrove propagules were been planted by students of Angeles University Foundation. Students of the Pampanga State Agricultural University also planted additional mangroves in 2013, some of which are now fully grown.
The biggest and most extensive mangrove panting in the area was conducted in 2014 when some 146 hectares were planted with mangrove propagules by residents of Batang Dos. This accounts for some 648,888 propagules for the said year.
The municipal government had also started its mangrove patrol system deputizing local fishermen in looking after the mangroves. The town had organized its own Bantay Bakawan (Mangrove Guards) to patrol the area. The town now strictly prohibits the cutting of mangrove trees in the area and had extensively installed signage to ward off loggers.
The sheer number of migratory birds in the area has been drawing birdwatchers each year.
This necessitated the need to provide guided tours in the area. The local government of Sasmuan helps in facilitating such visits with the aim of promoting the area as a tourism destination and to draw support for the conservation initiatives for the island.
The town earns from the tourist visits in the area as it has a share of 20 percent from P20 ecological fees collected from tourists. The share is not much, but this helps in paying for the services of a couple of people who maintain the facility at the island.
The island’s proximity to Lubao Bamboo Hub and Ecopark, another eco-tourism destination in Lubao town, also benefits Bangkung Malapad. The six-hectare bamboo hub in Sta. Catalina in Lubao town had registered a total of 37,000 visitors in 2017 alone. Tours to the Bamboo Hub usually encourage a tour of Bangkung Malapad as part of whole tourist package.
Tourists would take a river cruise ride at Ecocreativa Banqueruan Port in Lubao town. The cruise would lead to Bangkung Malapad were visitors can sightsee, plant mangroves and picnic at the island’s view deck before proceeding to the Bamboo Hub in Lubao. The area also provides a stunning view of the coastal areas of Orani.
Currently, with renewed effort to further promote and conserve the area, more tourists are expected to visit in the coming months.