A TOP environment official ordered a strengthen watch on mangrove-protected areas in Zamboanga City following reports on the rampant cutting of mangroves.

Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro)-west Chief Tito Gadon issued the order after reports on rampant cutting of mangroves in the villages of Talon-Talon, Mampang, and Arena Blanco, a declared protected area.

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Gadon said he received reports from environmentalists that mangroves are sold as poles, firewood, and charcoal by unscrupulous individuals cutting mangroves in the 400-hectare protected area.

Cenro-west forester Ben Acana said they have arrested a man who was in the act of cutting down mangroves in the area of Mampang village around 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Acana identified the arrested suspect as Frederick Barrera, a seaweed farmer and a resident of Kilometer Seven, Mampang village.

Acana said they have confiscated 80 mangrove poles measuring 10 feet long that were cut down by Barrera as well as two cubic meters of mangroves cut as firewood.

The arrested suspect was brought to the City Prosecutor's Office for inquest proceeding, Acana said.

Gadon described the 400-hectare protected area as a barren place before but "now it is almost fully covered with mangroves."

Acana said the area is the site of mangrove tree planting activity by students, civic organizations and non-government organizations and other groups.

Acana said they have already managed to plant mangroves in at least 340 of the 400- hectare protected area that stretches from the villages of Talon-Talon up to Arena Blanco.

Acana said the cutting of mangroves is prohibited under the local government code and through Department Administrative Order Number 15 series of 1990. (Bong Garcia)