Philippine mangrove loss alarming - DENR
By Sergio A. Pontillas
In a region that leads the world in terms of mangrove forest cover, the Philippines now ranks last in Southeast Asia, according to a ranking official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Honorato G. Palis, chief of the Mangrove Research Section of the Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau of the DENR raised the alarm during a seminar on mangrove management sponsored by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) on the occasion of its 14th founding anniversary last June 19 in Puerto Princesa City.
“It’s a pity that up to now, (our mangrove management program) consists only of planting trees,” Dr. Palis lamented.
Mangroves have been traditionally used for timber, firewood, medicine, food, and municipal fisheries. Other uses of mangroves are for settlements and salt production.
The December 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean has proven that mangroves also serve as shoreline protection against destructive ocean waves, Palis said.
In recent years, mangrove forests have been cleared for the shrimp mariculture industry, which has an estimated annual farm gate value of nine billion dollars, he noted.
Since the 1970s, shrimp production from Asia has been steadily increasing from 26 million tons to 100,000 million tons in the 1980s, reaching a peak of 700,000 million tons in 1995, a DENR report said.
Alongside this increase in economic resource utilization is the steady loss of mangrove forests, estimated at a rate of 4,572 hectares per year. According to Palis, mangrove deforestation in the Philippines is 80 to 90 per cent, which is higher than the Asian deforestation rate of 60 to 70 per cent.
Other causes of mangrove loss, aside from aquaculture, are timber and charcoal production, human settlement, salt pond construction, industrialization, and pollution.
The case of Manila, whose ancient name “Maynilad” signifies the abundance of a mangrove species called “nilad” in its shores, is a perfect example of mangrove deforestation due to industrialization and pollution, Palis said. To date, no more species of “nilad” exists along Manila’s coastline.
Mismatched Policy on Mangroves
Loan incentives provided by the Central Bank and Development Bank of the Philippines also contributed to the large-scale conversion of mangrove forests into fishponds, Palis said.
During the term of President Corazon Aquino from 1986 to 1992, numerous declarations were made for the protection of foreshore areas, and fishpond lease holders were required to plant mangroves.
The late 1980s also saw the widening of mangrove buffer zones, but contrary to the policy of mangrove forest protection, fishpond areas inside forestlands increased from 1,016 hectares in 1982 to 75,548 hectares in 1990.
A new trend in management policy was introduced during the financial crisis of the 1990s, when new regulatory mechanisms, access limitations and conversion initiatives in coastal management were strengthened.
Participation of civil society groups and local government units was seen as a vital component of mangrove forest protection.
New laws like the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) for Palawan and the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act were designed to include mangrove forests in ecosystems-wide protection of biodiversity.
Integrated Coastal Management became a byword during the late 199’s, but it proved to be too unwieldy for conservationists and policy makers, Palis said.
By the turn of the century, the large-scale ecosystems approach to mangrove conservation was scaled down and a new strategy was adopted.
Community-Based Forest Management
According to Dr. Palis, ability to use the area for a variety of livelihood activities, to extract wood in limited quantities from mangroves planted in the area, and exemption from paying rent for use of the forested area are the projected benefits of the Community Based Forest Management system.
However, the approach has not helped curb mangrove depletion in Palawan.
“Our mangrove trees have stopped growing after three years,” observed the barangay chairman of Bgy. Mangingisda. He was referring to their mangrove reforestation in a coastal barangay in Puerto Princesa.
Palis replied that the possible problem could be in the proper selection of mangrove propagules, or seedlings, for the mangrove reforestation site of Bgy. Mangingisda.
“There could have been a mismatch,” Palis said.
He added that stakeholders would need to look at mangrove-related problems using an ecosystems approach.
“It is not just about everywhere along our coastlines where we should plant mangroves. Seagrass beds have been erased by some of our misguided mangrove reforestation efforts,” Palis said.