LAST December 29, 2020, Secretary Roy Cimatu of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) led the planting of "nilad," a species of mangrove, at Baseco in Manila. This signals the start of the "Nilad for Maynila" project, which is in line with the DENR's ongoing Manila Bay rehabilitation project. The DENR partnered with the city government of Manila for this project.
Aside from environmental benefits, the planting of nilad has historical significance. The nation's capital derived its name from the plant which is said to be abundant in the city before. "May-nilad" translates in English as "there is nilad." The nilad plant, with scientific name Scyphiphora Hydrophyllacea, is a mangrove species that grew abundantly along Manila Bay and Pasig River during the early times.
The naming of Manila from "nilad" is similar to how my beloved Mabalacat City was named. Ma-balacat means full of "balacat," a tree endemic to the Philippines that were abundant before. In 2007, I started a balacat tree planting project to propagate this endangered species. In the Mabalacat City Environment Code, which I authored, the balacat tree was declared as the city tree.
Mangroves, like nilad, play a very important role in the ecosystem. They provide numerous good and services both to the marine environment and people. Mangrove forests are home to a large variety of fish, crab, shrimp, and mollusk species. These fisheries form an essential source of food for thousands of coastal communities around the world. The forests also serve as nurseries for many fish species, including coral reef fish.
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. By filtering out sediments, the forests also protect coral reefs and seagrass meadows from being smothered in sediment.
Mangroves help people weather the impacts of climate change and help mitigate its causes. They have the capacity to take more carbon out of the atmosphere than terrestrial forests. They also protect coastlines form storms and tsunamis. Mangroves in Palompon, Leyte prevented the town from being severely damaged by super typhoon Yolanda. Here in Pampanga, mangroves shielded a village in Sasmuan, from the strong winds and waves stirred by typhoon Glenda in 2014.
Mangroves also provide coastal and indigenous communities wood for construction material as well as for fuel. These communities also collect medicinal plants from mangrove ecosystems and use mangrove leaves as animal fodder. The nipa palm, a species of mangrove, is the source of "sukang sasa" or "aslam sasa" in kapampangan.
Sadly, mangroves are disappearing due to over-exploitation, land reclamation and pollution. Large areas of mangroves have been cleared for fish and shrimp farming. Tree planting activities should not just target bald mountains, but also coastlines and river banks.