Marine scientist presses creation of ‘coastal greenbelts’ to cushion typhoon impacts

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 24 December) – Jurgenne Primavera, a renowned marine scientist from Mindanao, has pushed anew the need to legislate the creation of “coastal greenbelts” across the Philippines in the wake of the devastation wreaked by typhoon “Odette” (international name: “Rai”).

Some parts of Siargao Island are covered with mangroves, like this “Secret Beach” in Doot at the boundary of Barangay Union in Dapa and Barangay Malinao in General Luna. MindaNews file photo by ROEL N. CATOTO

“We have to move from disaster response to resilience, specifically coastal resilience … for a country yearly blighted by 20 storms which make landfall where the sea meets the sand, meaning on the beach lining most of our 36,300-km long coastlines. So we need coastal greenbelts,” she posted on social media.

Primavera, who was born and raised in Agusan del Norte and was named by Time Magazine as “Hero of the Environment” in 2008 for her work in mangrove conservation, said the coastal greenbelts were needed by the country decades ago.

According to her, mangroves can greatly help mitigate the impact of typhoons in coastal areas.

She cited a study by McIvor et al in 2012, which states that a greenbelt 100 meters wide will absorb or reduce wave energy by up to 60 percent.

Primavera raised the need to establish coastal greenbelts following Odette’s wrath, which caused massive destruction on Siargao Island in Surigao del Norte and Dinagat Islands province in Mindanao and other parts of the Visayas.

Odette first made landfall on December 16 on Siargao Island at 1:30 p.m. and at 3:10 p.m. in Dinagat Islands before pummeling parts of Southern Leyte, Bohol, Cebu, Negros Oriental in the Visayas and Palawan in Luzon, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported.

The super typhoon killed at least 326 persons and left a wide trail of destruction worth around P4 billion to infrastructure and at least P2.03 billion to agriculture, or a total of about 6.03 billion, NDRRMC data showed.

Typhoon Signal No. 4 was raised in Dinagat Islands and Siargao and Bucas Grande Islands in Mindanao and Southern Leyte and the eastern portion of Bohol in the Visayas around 11 a.m. on December 16. Three hours earlier, Odette was recorded to have maximum sustained winds of 165 km/h near the center and gustiness of up to 205 km/h.

Primavera said that a science-based National Coastal Greenbelt Bill was filed in Congress by Senator Bam Aquino in the Upper House in 2016 and Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe. Aquino lost his re-election bid in 2019 while Batocabe was shot dead in 2018.

Incumbent Senators Nancy Binay and Risa Hontiveros also filed a similar bill. To date, Congress has yet to pass the Greenbelt Bill, Primavera noted.

However, Primavera cited a 200-meter mangrove in Leganes, Iloilo as a “shining example of political will and science-based governance.’

With technical inputs from Filipino and other scientists from the Zoological Society of London, the municipal government reverted a 9.5-hectare abandoned fishpond by applying an assisted natural regeneration and achieved full mangrove cover in only three years from 2009 to 2012.

Since then, hundreds if not thousands of students, local folk, members of NGOs, business sector, military, religious and various other groups have done their bit by planting a few piapi (Avicennia marina), the correct species, here and there, she said.

In 2005, during a seminar for journalists in Iloilo where Primavera served as a resource person, she stressed that mangroves act as protective shields that would cushion the impact of giant waves.

“Mangroves are a vital component of the marine environment,” she stressed then.

Primavera also then noted that the deadly tsunami that hit parts of Asia in December 2004, which killed tens of thousands of people and destroyed billions of dollars’ worth of properties, could have been mitigated had there been sufficient mangrove areas in the devastated countries.

Aside from serving as a “defense barrier,” mangroves have lots of other traditional uses, according to Primavera, a recipient of a Pew Fellowship in marine conservation.

For instance, the bark of Avicennia alba can serve as astringent and its resinous secretion for birth control, she said.

Primavera said the leaves of Excoecaria agallocha can be used to treat epilepsy, its sap for ulcers and toothaches.

Other mangrove varieties, according to her, can be used to treat diarrhea and dysentery, to groom hair, as food ingredient, and as skin cosmetic.

But on top of all that, Primavera said that mangroves are important to keep marine biodiversity in place. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)