May has been celebrated Month of the Ocean in the Philippines since 1998. This year’s theme focuses on the mangroves, with official tagline ““Mangroves protect. Protect mangroves”.
The tagline specifically refers to the mangroves’ role in protecting coastal areas from strong waves and storm surges caused by typhoons. This critical role of mangroves was especially recognized in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda. While Yolanda’s strength was off the charts and certainly bound to cause a lot of damage, in some areas, communities claim that their healthy mangroves helped protect them from the brunt of the storm.
“The mangroves are still standing, but there are circles in the middle where the branches of the trees had been sheared … They helped save us from the fury of Yolanda,” Milane Desamparado said.
— Mangroves shielded Sagay islet’s residents – Inquirer.net
Did you know that Manila Bay was once lined with healthy mangroves? The name “Manila” itself came from “may nilad,” with nilad referring to a certain type of mangroves. Alas, the mangroves are long gone and so now we have to rely on costly sea walls to protect Manila’s coasts.
After Yolanda, the government declared mangrove forests restoration and protection a priority, as a way of protecting coastal communities from future typhoons that are bound to get stronger because of climate change.
Interestingly, according to findings by a survey of Yolanda-hit areas led by foremost mangrove expert Dr. Jurgenne Primavera, mangrove restoration efforts need not even be that costly, as mangroves are basically built to survive.
“Our survey revealed that probably 100-200 hectares only in 13 municipalities and one city suffered total mortality and therefore need new planting, in addition to enrichment planting of gaps in partially-damaged areas… After all, [mangroves] are bioshields. Damage-cum-recovery is part of their course.” – Dr. Jurgenne Primavera
Planting, of course, can help speed up the reforestation process, but the main thing is that we have to STOP CUTTING the mangroves that are already there. Stop cutting them to make way for fishponds or resort facilities. Stop cutting them to be used in charcoal-making. Stop choking them with garbage and other pollutants. And this applies not only in Yolanda-hit areas but in the entire Philippines.
Of course, these are all easier said than done, which is why mangrove conservation efforts need all the support they can get. In some areas, communities have “adopted” their mangrove areas and are actively working to protect and manage them. They are also trying to promote the mangrove areas as ecotourism destinations, as these areas offer great opportunities from simple sightseeing to a live example of the interconnectedness of living things in an ecosystem.
So to help celebrate Month of the Ocean, one can:
- Help plant and protect mangroves. Barangay Silonay in Calapan, Oriental Mindoro is one of the areas where communities take pride in mangrove conservation work. A people’s organization called Sama-samang Nagkakaisang Pamayanan ng Silonay manages mangrove conservation and ecotourism efforts in partnership with the local government. Check out their Facebook page here to see the various groups that have visited the place to plant mangroves. You can also read about their story here. For inquiries on possible visits, contact +639156896293. In Calatagan, Batangas province, communities are also doing similar work, and have gained many benefits from it. See their story here.
- Visit the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area, which contains some of the few remaining mangrove forests in the Metro Manila environs. Proposed reclamation projects threaten the area, however, so again, this is one of the places where public support is needed. Check out some gorgeous photos here.
- Join the Bayani ng Bakawan Short Video Essay Contest, one of the official events of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for Month of the Ocean. Check out the guidelines here.
- Help spread the word about mangroves.
Of course, even if the official theme for Month of the Ocean is on mangroves, the ocean is not just all about mangroves. What other ways would you want to observe Month of the Ocean?