P1-B budget for mangrove planting in Leyte, Samar too much, says expert

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/4 April) — A government plan to allocate some P1 billion almost exclusively for planting to rehabilitate mangrove forests in Leyte and Samar damaged by super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) could result in more damage owing to lack of science-based guidelines, an expert warned.

Dr. Jurgenne Honculada-Primavera, co-chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature- Mangrove Specialist Group, said a four-month assessment she made with other scientists showed the mangroves only sustained minimal damage or none at all “and are recovering”.

Primavera said that since shoots had grown out of defoliated branches and trunks aside from seeds and saplings, there is no need for new planting, only protection.

“After all they are bioshields and damage-cum-recovery is par for their course,” she said in an email to MindaNews.

“Yet the government plans to release PhP1 billion/US$22 million through DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) almost completely for mangrove planting. This is risky because the recipients (cash-starved survivors) could easily clear remaining viable and recovering but inconspicuous mangrove stands (with slow-growing shoots, small seedlings) — just to show some work done and avail of the Cash for Work scheme!” she said.

“Our survey revealed that probably 100-200 hectares only in 13 municipalities plus one city suffered total mortality and therefore need new planting, in addition to enrichment planting of gaps in partially damaged areas,” Primavera, also the chief mangrove scientific advisor to the Zoological Society of London, added.

She, however, lamented that “already some national and international initiatives outside of government have released funds for mangrove clearing and planting without the benefit of science-based guidelines.”

She said they have to share their findings with decision-makers “before the one billion pesos is released and drives the post-Haiyan mangrove rehabilitation program, instead of science.”

Primavera said they are currently drafting two documents: Criteria for Mangrove Damage and Recovery Assessment, and Guidelines for Mangrove Cleaning, both for people’s organizations and other people on the ground.

In a position paper, Primavera and other scientists proposed the following measures and corresponding budget for mangrove areas affected by Yolanda: technical research and evaluation (PhP100 million), and integrative science-based management interventions (PhP900 million).

They said the research should focus on, among others, the effects of Yolanda on the biophysical state and processes of mangrove and beach forest ecosystems in worst hit areas; development of geophysical oceanographic models to demonstrate wind and surge impacts, and sedimentation; patterns of regeneration and recovery in mangrove and beach forest species; and cost-effectiveness of mangrove and beach forest recovery options.

They said science-based interventions should include protection of remaining natural mangroves and beach forests, resettlement of vulnerable coastal communities, establishment and maintenance of coastal greenbelts at least 100-m wide, strengthening of skills in organizing and mobilizing communities, and appropriate mangrove protection, planting, maintenance, and monitoring.

The recommendations were made during the workshop “Mapping Yolanda’s Impact on Philippine Mangroves: Impacts and Recovery” held 21-22 March at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

Primavera noted that Senator Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV has filed National Coastal Greenbelt Bill (SB 2167) that pushes for a 100-meter greenbelt zone “which is based on science and on law” in contrast to the 40-meter no build zone provided for in Presidential Decree 1067 or the Water Code of 1976 “with no science”. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)