It is scary the Philippines is ranked No. 3 in the World Risk Report for Environmental Danger.
But, indeed, why not when our natural defenses against attacks on nature like forests and mangroves have been depleted?
From 500,000 hectares of mangroves in 1918, the nation is down to only 110,000 hectares today. In the last 50 years, 9.8 million hectares of forests vanished, resulting in a forest cover that dropped from 90 percent to only 10 percent today.
Our defense against storm surges, flooding and wind gusts has been decimated. To cite an example, a weekend magazine has cited that the town of General MacArthur in Samar was saved from devastation similar to that in Leyte because of the presence of thick mangrove trees along its shores.
Bohol, one of the country’s finest tourist destinations, had been victimized by both earthquakes and typhoons.
If one looks down from an airplane, one sees the need to reforest the denuded mountains of Bohol and continue the propagation of mangrove plantations that can be found in 45 of the 47 towns in the province. Much can still be done.
Most people take mangroves for granted, simply because they can be seen in abundance. But, we fail to educate the Filipino people of their importance to the ecosystem. But, according to the fisheries department, the economic value of a complete mangrove ecosystem amounts to $600 per hectare a year. Because of mangroves, the Philippines is able to sell $83 million worth of fish in a year. Why is this so?
Mangroves are the natural sanctuaries and breeding sites of fish, crabs, shrimps and other marine life. It protects them from predators. The mangrove also is a natural filter that prevents in-land toxins from going into deeper waters and endanger the health of the fish catch for human consumption.
Even the bangus and prawns spend their early lives in the confines of mangroves. It is often said that the mangroves collectively render a life-support system to 75 percent of the total fish population.
Given Bohol’s wide mangrove coverage, it stands to reason that a large quantity of fish should be teeming in the Visayan Sea. Why it has scarcity of fish that drives prices higher results from Cebu buyers paying better prices and they even extend working capital to fishermen to corner their daily catch.
Mangroves produce a waste matter called detritus that serves as animal feed and has resulted in frequent visitations of flocks of birds and some primates that use the habitat as breeding grounds.
Mangroves are said to dissipate 70 percent to 90 percent of wind-generated waves that protect inland areas from giant water surges. It is said we have generally ignored the fact that the vulnerable towns of Getafe, Talibon and Buenavista have been amply protected from nature’s harm because of these thick mangrove foliage.
Often cited as one example of conscious mangrove development that should be emulated elsewhere in the province are those in the Baconan and Calituban islands, now expanded to 1,000 hectares. Bohol’s dense mangrove vegetation fronting the Getafe sea is considered the biggest in Southeast Asia.
Some of these mangrove plantations have provided an alternative source of income—which is ecotourism, which we feel should be pushed harder considering our natural advantage. Tours through the water pathways with guides or even self-kayaking, though not yet in breakthrough popularity, are gaining significant grounds.
There is need to train more technically adept guides to explain mangroves and their role in the ecosystem in order to make visitors appreciate that one has seen one of the major saviors of our planet from natural annihilation.
Let’s face it, the country is an archipelago situated in the tropics where cyclones are a dime a dozen, spawning storms and the like. We are in the so-called earthquake global artery susceptible to tremors and volcanic eruptions
We can wait and die, while the irreversible trend of natural destruction continues. Or we can do something about its mitigation by redeveloping our armory of defenses called forests, vegetation and mangroves.
If the best offense is defense, then the Boholanos must replant trees and vegetables and expand their mangrove sites. Now, not next year. Bohol, of course, can keep its powdery sand beaches, the iconic chocolate hills and centuries-old churches.
But it must protect its environment first.
Bingo Dejaresco, a former banker, is a financial consultant, media practitioner and political strategist. His views are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of Finex.