Mangrove rehab projects in PH lack science – expert

CEBU CITY (MindaNews / 10 June) – Wrong practices have caused many mangrove rehabilitation projects in the Philippines to fail, an expert said Tuesday.

Dr. Jurgenne Honculada-Primavera, a scientist known for his contribution to mangrove conservation, said such projects were being implemented without the support of science-based guidelines.

In a presentation to members of the Philippine Ecosystem Alliance, Primavera noted that in most cases the planting of mangroves did not observe proper site selection.

She said that in many areas species of mangroves known as bakhaw such as Rhizophora stylosa and Rhizophora epiculata were planted on seafronts causing high mortality.

“Bakhaw is suited for planting along riverbanks, tidal creeks and other sheltered sites,” she said.

Mangrove species called pagatpat (Sonneratia alba) and bongalon or apiapi (Avicennia alba and Avicennia marina) should serve as front liner, she added.

Primavera, a native of Butuan City who now works as chief mangrove scientific advisor to the Zoological Society of London, attributed the problem to poor site selection.

“Site selection should be done during neap tide – a major paradigm shift from the past protocol selecting exposed sites during spring tide – which turn out to be flooded when the neap tides follow, resulting in mortality of seedlings.

“Areas exposed during neap tide will remain above water even during spring tide, a prerequisite for mangrove survival, as mangroves cannot stand flooding more than 30 percent of the time,” she explained.

She further noted that survival along the seafront is “higher for nursery-raised seedlings (versus propagules) because their woody stems and developed roots and bigger sizes can better withstand barnacle infestation and wave action”.

Primavera also noted that in some cases the planting of mangroves was done in sea grass areas, the habitat of dugong (sea cow), seahorses and other species.

Last year, Primavera had voiced her opposition to the plan of government to allocate some P1 billion almost exclusively for planting to rehabilitate mangrove forests in Leyte and Samar damaged by super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

She said the plan could result in more damage owing to lack of science-based guidelines.

She said a four-month assessment she made with other scientists showed the mangroves only sustained minimal damage or none at all “and are recovering” contrary to reports of massive destruction.

She observed that shoots had grown out of defoliated branches and trunks aside from seeds and saplings hence 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.

“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,” she added.

On Tuesday, Primavera reiterated her objection to the release of the P1 billion through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources almost completely for mangrove planting through cash-for-work for local communities.

She said this is risky because the local people would cut or uproot recovering but inconspicuous mangrove stands and replace them with seedlings just to show some work done and avail of the cash incentive.

She said the government withheld the budget last year, but in March this year released P400 million of the P1-billion allocation.

“I don’t want to demonize DENR. There are good people in DENR but their national office always has the last say. We’re dealing with structures,” she clarified.

Primavera also recommended that abandoned fish ponds should be reverted to mangrove forests that can serve as greenbelts along coastal areas.

She, however, said many of these abandoned ponds have either been titled or blocked by resorts and other structures.

The Philippine Ecosystem Alliance is holding a four-day workshop that started on Monday to produce a climate change adaptation plan for resilient ecosystems.

The group is currently lobbying for the enactment of a People’s Survival Fund to help local communities cope with the impact of climate change. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)