SALCEDO, Eastern Samar — When Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) wiped out much of the mangroves in Eastern Visayas, Oliver Layugan, a resident of Salcedo town, was filled with horror.
“The [destruction of] mangroves after Yolanda was a lot bigger than I had expected… Huge mangroves were toppled down and drowned in mud,” Layugan said.
Some 5,163.06 hectares of mangrove forests were destroyed in the provinces of Leyte and Eastern Samar when Yolanda ravaged the central Philippines. According to the Global Mangrove Watch, 4,395.82 hectares of mangroves had recovered in the two provinces in 2020.
In the northern coast of Salcedo, mangroves have returned to their pre-Yolanda extent, save for some small patches, a study that calculated post-Yolanda mangrove damage and recovery using remote sensing found.
Over the years, the local government of Salcedo and private organizations have been working hand in hand to restore mangroves that protect coastal communities from storms and help in the fight against climate change.
Jessica Rojero, barangay captain of Caridad, said most of the mangroves in the village “are already recovered and in good condition.”
In 2014, several organizations in Brgy. Caridad became beneficiaries of a program that aimed to restore mangrove areas and establish a nursery, which became a source of income for community members. Groups earn P10 for every mangrove seedling purchased from their nursery.
The barangay is also imposing fines and penalties to individuals who engage in the illegal cutting of mangroves in the protected zone.
“We are thankful that the community is participative and supportive in terms of these programs as well as for the active participation of the local organizations present in the barangay,” Rojero said.
Matarinao is also one of the barangays in northern Salcedo that reported good mangrove recovery. Residents there are active in reporting illegal activities, especially since mangroves are located in their backyards.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) introduced a family-based project where locals are paid annually by planting and nurturing 30,000 mangrove seedlings in the coastline.
Residents there applied the clustering method of planting, instead of the conventional straight line technique, claiming it has a higher success rate.
“A paradigm shift [is needed] as the government and most agencies define success at the start as present seedlings or hectares planted. Biological success should be defined at the end: What was the percent [of] survival? How many hectares have been created? And for that, we need monitoring,” said Dr. Jurgenne Primavera, a renowned mangrove expert in the country.
Locals said the rehabilitated mangrove areas in the northern coast of Salcedo do not only provide protection to communities but also sustain fisheries.
“Mangroves are important to us, especially those who live here in the coastline because it lessens the effects of the waves and the destruction to the community,” said Juny Natividad, a resident of Matarinao.
Lack of protection
On the other hand, large swathes of mangroves in the southern coast of Salcedo were still unable to recover nine years after the onslaught of Yolanda.
Allen Glen Gil, one of the authors of the study mapping mangrove damage and recovery in Eastern Visayas, explained that the largest damage was seen in the town’s southern portion because it was closer to where the super typhoon first made landfall.
Mangroves in the coastal barangay of Tagbacan are still recovering from the destruction caused by Yolanda, leaving residents concerned about the lack of coastal defenses.
According to the Municipal Environmental and Natural Resources Office (MENRO), parts of southern Salcedo’s coastal barangays have not yet recovered because of their geography. The frequent typhoons that hit the area also affect the growth of mangroves.
Restoration efforts usually fail when mangroves are planted in appropriate sites or when wrong species are planted. Rhizopora or bakhaw is commonly found in the area, even though it is not a good species for planting in some seafront or coastal areas.
“Why bakhaw? Because the propagules [are] quite big because if we plant avicennia marina and sonneratia alba you need a nursery. It is planted by convenience not by ecology,” Primavera said.
“Always remember the differences between the variety of mangroves and their locations. First, do not plant bakhaw on seagrass beds and mudflats. Plant pagatpat/piapi in the middle-upper intertidal and the LGU should monitor and report the percent of surviving mangroves rather than percent of target seedlings/area planted,” she stressed.
Tagbacan’s Sangguniang Kabataan Chairman Rexon Oguirra also said that illegal cutting of mangroves and the lack of community support also contribute to mangrove degradation in the area.
Barangay councils are still looking for ways to improve their mangrove rehabilitation programs and collaborate with other non-government organizations in implementing their future activities.
One of the major problems faced by the coastal folk is the lack of information dissemination on the proper ways of planting mangroves. The environment office of Salcedo said it trains residents to be knowledgeable on mangrove rehabilitation.
Primavera urged communities to try planting other species in areas where mangrove restoration endeavors have failed.
She added that the government should do an education campaign, implement a shift from paid labor to voluntary labor, and assist residents in securing forest management agreements and legal ownership of their mangrove areas in order for more people to appreciate mangroves and their ecosystem services better.
“I wish my people knew the reason why the air is so hot, why it is hard to catch fish in the nearby seas,” Layugan said.
“If the mangrove forest is fully restored, the extreme heat in the island can be lessened and we can be protected from the threat of typhoons,” he added.
This story was supported by Climate Tracker and Oxfam Pilipinas.
By: Queenee Tisha Dela Cruz and Dianuz Emstien J. Discar