Juan L. Mercado

‘Green wall’

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They call it - what? “The green wall,” our banker friend said. He oversees banks in the Visayas. Mangroves in Eastern Samar buffered the storm surge that killed thousands elsewhere, his clients stated.

 

That’s correct, noted Neil Chatterjee writing for Bloomberg. In Southeast Asia, replanted mangroves are getting credit for protecting communities against tsunamis and supertyphoons such as “Yolanda” in the Philippines. They trim greenhouse gas emissions.

Mangrove regeneration in Northern Samar minimized damage from the Nov. 8 typhoon, Trowel Development Foundation reports. Planting 30 coastal trees, per 100 square meters, may reduce the flow of a tsunami up to 90 percent, the journal Science concludes from a study of the 2004 tsunami that killed 220,000 people in Aceh, Indonesia.

We protected mangroves against illegal cutting, e-mailed Leonardo Rosario, a development consultant on the Northern Samar project. Areas surrounding fish farms were planted with native mangrove species. They buffered residents and fish farms from the brute force of Yolanda.

Mangroves in the Philippines, however, are cut or paved over with concrete at a rate of 1 percent a year. They’re “very much degraded,” notes Daniel Murdiyarso, a forestry scientist at the Bogor, Indonesia-based Center for International Forestry Research. Indonesia’s mangrove loss is four times higher than the government’s figure.

Had the mangroves in Leyte and Eastern Samar been conserved, the storm surge would have been dissipated by 70 to 80 percent of its strength, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje estimates. The devastation of Tacloban, which faces open seas, was aggravated because no mangroves provided a buffer. Affected coastlines once had extensive mangroves and beach forest areas. But most were converted into squatter settlements, others for projects.

President Aquino directed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to “earmark P350 million for the restoration of the ‘green wall.’” Priority will focus on Leyte. “Tacloban is a major concern given its being a major population center. But the undertaking will cover practically the entire eastern seaboard of Eastern Visayas,” Paje says.

Mangroves on marine coasts and estuaries may help low-lying coastal areas adapt to rising sea levels, which could uproot 13.6 million Filipinos by 2050, the Asian Development Bank projected in an earlier study titled  “Addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific.”

Countries like the Philippines must redo earlier estimates of a 20-centimeter rise in sea level. It will probably double. And this threat runs “along the Pacific seaboard: from Samar to eastern Mindanao,” Wendy Clavano wrote in “Environmental Science for Social Change.”

Not everyone agrees. “I’ve been in far too many disaster areas as a member of the Unesco International Tsunami Survey Team,” said Brian McAdoo, professor of science at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. “And I’ve seen too many coastal forests overwhelmed to put much faith in trees being effective defenses against a tsunami.”

 

Article 51 of the Philippine Water Code (Presidential Decree No. 1067) bars people from building in shores of the seas and lakes throughout their entire length and within a zone of three meters in urban areas. That goes up to 20 meters in agricultural areas and 40 meters in forest areas, “along their margins (and) are subject to the easement of public use in the interest of recreation, navigation, floatage, fishing and salvage.”

But it is a law honored more in the breach than in the observance. Now, the 5,924 - and still rising - Yolanda deaths require political reform. “The onus is on local government officials to restore their mangrove areas and beach forests,” Paje says. It is at the local level where reform takes root or withers.

“Better three hours too soon than a minute too late,” Shakespeare once said. Yolanda clobbered us before what the world’s top scientist on mangroves has been insisting all along started to sink in.

She is a Filipino, Time Magazine pointed out. In its 2008 cover story on 100 of the world’s top environmental scientists, Time reported about Jurgenne Primavera, former senior scientist at Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center in Panay, campaigning to protect mangrove forests that act as a crucial buffer zone between land and sea.

Roughly a fourth of mangrove forests here have disappeared since 1980. Time’s Hanna Beech noted in her report on Primavera: One of aquafarming’s side effects is to  wreck mangroves - a plant network that sponges nasty effluents and are a barricade against typhoons and tsunamis. The propensity to introduce exotic seafood species into local habitats—as  opposed to farming native species - can also badly damage delicate ecosystems.

Save some mangroves so aquaculture flourishes sustainably, Primavera urges in the just-published “Manual on Community-based Mangrove Rehabilitation.” Backed by the Zoological Society of London, the book distills lessons from rearing 58,000 seedlings of a dozen mangrove species in on-site nurseries. Some, 100,000 wildings and nursery seedlings were planted by 4,000 volunteers from nongovernment organizations, church groups, etc. It stitches biophysical and sociopolitical “do’s and don’ts” when trying to build “a green wall.” As interest in rehabilitating mangroves grows in the wake of the devastation from Yolanda, search the Net for this link:  https://www.zsl.org/conservation/regions/asia/mangrove-philippines/iucn-mangrove-specialist-group,2261,AR.html

But then, when did countries ever listen to their own prophets?

 

 

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