Hope for coastal restoration

PROMOTING an advocacy is one thing; making money for long term survival is another thing.

Volunteerism could power a movement for long periods of time, but after a while, it is very difficult to sustain a good project not unless there is an economic component that could keep it going.

This is true in the case of environmental projects, especially when it comes to growing trees in the long run. This is perhaps the reason why tree planting projects die out, because it is easier to plant than to keep the trees alive and growing until it reaches its productive stage.

Dante Pasia, an environmentalist and an advocate of mangrove propagation, says that way back in the 1920s there were about 60,000 hectares of natural mangrove forests around the Manila Bay, consisting of about 25 species. Today, he says that only about 10,000 hectares are left, more or less.

He adds that per hectare of mangrove would yield about 400 kilos of various food items per year, including several varieties of fish and crabs.

He is right about that, because I would always say that if we bring back the mangroves, the plankton would come back, and if the plankton would come back, the fish would come back.

To put it in another way, mangroves would actually form the core of a natural ecosystem that would bring back the life in the entire coastal area around the perimeter of the Manila Bay. Perhaps, most people would imagine the bay area to include only the whole stretch of Roxas Boulevard, but it is actually bigger than that, because the mouth of the bay is all the way up towards the ocean, with Cavite on one side, and Bataan on the other side.

Most people would also think of the bay as the setting of the world famous sunset, but in reality, the beauty of that sunset has somehow been diminished by the foulness of the polluted waters.

Pasia would also say that many years ago, perhaps during the time when the mangrove forests around the bay were still lush, there were actually regular sightings of dugong in the bay, which should not be surprising, because the same species is still sighted in the Bicol area up to today.

Believe it or not, there were actually sightings before of mother dugongs practically “sitting” on the beaches around the bay, nursing their young. These are the sightings that probably inspired tales about “mermaids” in the bay. Obviously, they came to feed on the fish. Well, you now know how to bring back the fish!

In order to sustain the mangrove plantations, Pasia is proposing a livelihood program that would turn the fishermen in the coastal areas of the bay into farmers too, and vice versa, to turn the farmers in these areas into fishermen too, as the case may be.

Just in case you are wondering how this duality of roles came about, it could be explained by the fact that the people who live in these areas who are supposed to be fishermen could no longer ply their trade unlike before, because the pollution in the bay has practically killed most of the fish.

The key to the sustainability of the mangrove plantations is the livelihood of the fishermen cum farmers who live around the coastal areas. They need several means of alternative livelihood so that they would become the guardians of the plantations, otherwise they would become the poachers of the mangroves.

As we already know, there is a high demand for the wood and the charcoal that comes from mangroves, because of their very high BTU content when used as fuel, particularly for the old style bakeries that are still in the market.

The fish and the crabs would of course be the most immediate source of livelihood, but aside from that, these guardians could also make money from fruits and vegetables that could be planted inland, beyond the easement from the shorelines.

Poultry and livestock would also be a good source of revenue for them but perhaps excluding piggeries, because these are known to produce pollutants that are bad for the water. In order to make this possible, it may be necessary to award leaseholds to these guardians, so that they would have the rights to farm these areas, especially if these are public lands.

Lest we forget, the Manila Bay is the downward destination of the water coming from the Pasig River and its tributaries. Not unless we clean the land around these rivers, the pollution will get into the water, and the water will go into the bay.

Sad to say the cities and municipalities around these areas are now dumping untreated sewerage into the waters, and that does not help in the restoration. Since we are trying to restore a complete ecosystem, we should also be systemic in our efforts to clean up. Retail solutions will not solve the problem, only wholesale solutions would./PN


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