Marine Gardens and Sea Shores

The little Beach Boys..

The little Beach Boys..

During our summer vacation months in the 1960′ and early ’70’s, it was common for my brothers and friends to enjoy the white gray beaches of Batangas.

One of our favorite sites was MATABUNGKAY.

It had rich marine life, clear blue waters, corals and mangroves. I recall spending about 5 days thanks to the generosity and kindness of my Aunt Conchita Cuervo  who rented a nice beach house for the family. Our day from sunrise to sunset was spent snorkeling enjoying the coral gardens, fishes and other sea creatures that mesmerize me. At times, we’ll take a boat and explore the coastal,  seashores of Batangas and Balayan Bay, or even venture further to some small island or sand bar. There, we would go hook and line fishing or dive with a homemade spear gun. It was indeed very adventurous and full of youthful fun.

There were days when we would use a small boat without motorized engines and had to row till my hands were wounded with blisters. However, I do not recall the pain but only the wonderful time that we spent the laughter, having a good lunch or dinner from the catch of the day.

When one is in deep contemplation, with the beauty of nature, one almost gets “hypnotized” in some way , and not feel the hot burning sun that once, gave me a bad sunstroke.My back had third degree burns, the skin with bleeding blisters , in the end , I had to be hospitalized. However, the joy, happiness and enjoyment of the marine garden and sea shores was all worthwhile.”He assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command.” (Proverbs. 8,29)

We would go with a small boat,  to find coral reefs , and would just dive and snorkel, playing with schools of fishes of different bright colors, sizes, shapes and characteristics. There were seahorses, star fishes, sea urchins (which I dreaded and avoided), eels, and other types of marine life. However,  the  number one rule and warning from my father, was never touch any thing, just   look and enjoy.

Matabungkay was once originally a sleepy fishing community , and was the favorite beach destination, among locals, and the high society of Manila,  specially the “buenas familias”, celebrities, domestic and foreign tourists.

Matabungkay was like a Paradise , it had a unique ” Spirit of Place”, that invigorated the mind, strengthen the body and revived the spirit , due to natures gifts and the healthy eco- environment.

BLTB Bus 1974

Typical BLTB Bus of the 197o’s & ’80’s

Batangas beach resorts was easily accessible by car or bus. Sometimes,  we would just take a BLTB bus. The bus was a peculiar and unique public vehicle. It was like a big box with 10 rows of seats, accommodating about 50 passengers, no corridor, no doors, and accessible through the open right side of the bus.

The BLTB Bus conductor would swing from one row to the next , even when the bus was in motion , truly a skillful acrobatic act. What amaze me most was his ability to memorize the destination, the amount paid and the change due for each and every passenger.

Traveling time was between two to three hours since it would take the old road. Rarely will it pass the newly opened, but unfinished south super highway.

So, the bus functioned like a jeepney where it would stop to pick up passengers or drop off passengers at will. Food was never a problem , specially in the towns of Binan for special delicious , Puto Binan, “espasol” and “pugo” eggs. In Calamba we ate  “balut” , and bought “buko” juice, “suman” and drinks such as Beer, Sarsi or Canada Dry soft drinks.

, Batangas was known for their “panucha”( peanut brittle) , fruits, and also non-food products such as their famous “balisong”, “bolos” knives and other types of cutting instruments.

Upon arrival at MATABUNGKAY.  and seeing the sea waters, I would get static, excited and a bit anxious imagining the great adventures awaiting me. I would run to the sea shore, and contemplate the calm blue waters , enjoy the refreshing sea breeze,  and listen to the sweet rhythm of the waves experiencing an indescribable peace and serenity.

Near the shore where public benches for rent, kiosks, and small huts. Towards  the further right side of Matabungkay beach , were the rest , summer  homes of the ” rich and famous” . However, for the  Tourists,  there were also beach  resorts, and houses for rent.

Unfortunately, and disgracefully , Matabungkay beach in Batangas today,  has no life. How did this destruction and death come about?! I witnessed it! This was made by the criminal acts of some fishermen,  who used dynamite and blasted the life out of the gardens of the sea . We called their attention and when confronted, they would threaten our lives. It was not enough for them killing marine life but also human life for they were murderers.

To my shock, accomplice to these crimes were coast guards, local police, unscrupulous businessmen and greedy politicians who supplied the “fishermen- criminals” with the dynamites.

They destroyed, raped and murdered the rich and beautiful marine ecosystem, the clean environment and life giving and sustaining mangroves.

The Price that we pay up to this very day for these crimes against Life, Society and our Country cries to Heaven for Vengeance!

Mother nature when destroyed has a way of fighting back for “when you go against nature, nature will go against you”. For in the end, there is natural law , that has to be obeyed. Our Natural Environment was created by God to Protect Man, and provide food and the enjoyment of being children of God. But instead, some have gone against natural law and ended up destroying these gifts of God for the love of money, greed selfishness which would eventually lead to evil, and the consequences of their criminal acts. The destruction and not protecting the sea gardens and marine life cannot ever be repaired or restored to its original state.

“Care for the environment represents a challenge for all of humanity. It is a matter of a common and universal  duty, that of respecting a common good.” (Compendium 466)

Last December 9, 2013, from 3-5.30pm my staff Bert Cabrera had the privilege to be invited in Forum on Mangroves and Beach Forest Greenbelts organized by the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society, Inc. (PNPCSI) with AGHAM – Advocates of Science and Technology for the People and PEOPLE’s Niche. This was a forum was held at the University of the Philippines  last Monday, December 9, 2013, 3:00 to 5:30 pm at the UP College of Science Library Amphitheater.

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The program which was emceed by the organizer Ms. Jo Q. Quimpo of Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society Incorporated,  provided us with additional information that is very vital for the preservation and creation of our Mangroves, Beach Forest and Greenbelts.

Ms. Quimpo, reiterated the importance of mangroves and how it could have saved lives from the devastating Yolanda storm surge.  She reminded everyone that there is an existing DENR rule about mangroves and appealed to everyone present that mangroves should be preserved and cultivated for the benefit of all.

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Left: Ms. Jo Q. Quimpo of Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society Incorporated with Leon Dulce, campaign coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment as the program’s emcees at College Of Science Library – UP Diliman
Right: Dr. Antonio Manila of Department of Environmental and Natural Resources

“DENR is giving P347M for restoring mangroves, starting at Leyte, Tacloban and areas  devastated by Yolanda.” Dr. Manila added that that they have set special endeavors – sharing important Technological know how and encourage us to do better with mangroves.

In the absence of the first main speaker, Dr. Rene Rellon, Director of Environmental  Science of Meteorology  at UP Dilimann gave a short but very informative lecture about storm surge and mangroves.

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Dr. Rene Rellon explaining the pathway of Yolanda

Dr. Rellon said, typhoon Yolanda is a unique storm surge.  Storms are not supposed to hit land but with its counter-clockwise direction and twirling effect, a huge degree of water was accumulated and slammed directly at Tacloban.

It was surprising to know from Dr. Rellon that it was at a low-tide when the storm surge struck. “The results could have been more worse if it was a high-tide.”

He explained the track of the epicenter. “Mas madami tao kaya madami namatay”, but compared to the 1912 storm that hit Tacloban, 15,000 was confirmed to have died.

With the height of Yolana’s fury, water is higher than Tacloban, and that’s is the reason why the big ships went ashore. Mangroves serves as effective protection for a storm surge even it it’s counter-clockwise.

Dr. Rellon cited the reasons why Tacloban was badly hit.

  1. Very thin or missing mangroves on Leyte/Tacloban.
  2. For some part, mangroves was existing but at  20 ft, it is still not enough.
  3. Mac Arthur mangroves was  500 meters from coastline. The mangroves were not the front liner but the beach/coastal lines.

Dr. Jurgenne Primavera then took over and gave a heart-warming, humorous but highly informative presentation about the current state of mangroves, beach forests and greenbelts in the Philippines.

Ms. Quimpo and Dr. Primavera with her published book.

Ms. Quimpo and Dr. Primavera with her published book.

She stressed that “man made” cultivated mangroves in the Philippines are not enough with very thin existence, they are wrongly planted, unadoptable location and wrong selection of plant species.

The number of deaths and damage should have been lesser if there were enough mangroves. Dr. Primavera cited past calamities like the 1976 tsunami and especially the Latasan Experience in Capiz (1984) wherein one sole survivor of a group of fishermen gave full account of what happened. Unfortunately that person is still suffering from the horrifying experience.

She rebuffed experts who said mangroves will get destroyed anyway, thus no need to plant. Dr. Primavera said “mangroves are our first line of defense. Yes, it will get destroyed but it will definitely cushion the impact of storm surges. Mangroves can be replanted.

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Mangroves may get damaged , but it protects our sea shores and coastlines

Her Recommendations are:

  1. Replant while rebuilding Samar, Leyte and the rest of Visayas affected by the storm surge.
  2. Follow proper height of the mangroves.
  3. Plant the proper specie and variety of mangroves.

Both speakers agreed that not all mangroves can and should be planted. The correct species, location should be carefully noted.

The Maasim paradox in Negros is also important to know. Yes, they planted a lot of greenery by mostly exotic trees. It resulted to flooding as the trees could not stop or absorb the huge amount of water.  Coconut and Bamboos could have been better or small trees that can be used as fence.

Importance of beach forests:

Dr. Primavera also cited the importance of beach forest and greenbelts. She said the government and most  Filipinos are not aware of its existence, importance and difference with mangroves.

She reiterated that planting trees are not bad as long as it’s the strong type, i’ts properly planted and combined with mangroves.  She strongly recommended that planting should start from seeds with strong foundations.

Lack of green belts:

Greenbelts in and around urban areas have probably not saved any lives, but they are important nonetheless to the ecological health of any given region. The various plants and trees in greenbelts serve as organic sponges for various forms of pollution, and as storehouses of carbon dioxide to help offset global warming.

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Trees are an important part of the city infrastructure but unfortunately green belts are still lacking in our country especially the provinces.

Problems why are mangroves, beach forest and greenbelts are missing

Tax declaration – is not proof of ownership and the alleged owners destroys mangroves for business purposes.

DENR in the provinces are untouchable. They dictate what they want – for profit.  Dr. Primavera  reminded everyone including the DENR officers present “don’t just plant…study.”

She suggested everyone to follow her Take home lessons:

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She also reminded the DepEd to educate the young people. Elementary students starting from grade 1 should know about mangroves. Unfortunately despite her pleas, no action have been done. Dr. Primavera hopes the Yolanda tragedy will awaken everyone.

These beautiful marine life pictures were taken under Southern Leyte, Philippines

These beautiful marine life pictures were taken under Southern Leyte, Philippines

Dr. Carpenter, in his 2005 study cited why preserving the Philippines marine life  should be a global priority because the country, according to his years of research verified by many scientists from different fields, has been found out to be “the center of the center of marine life in the universe,”  – the place with the most number of marine species. “

Dr. Carpenter explained 3 important areas regarding our marine life.

Diversity of Habitats: The Philippines has more diversity of habitats (sea grass, soft sediments, corals, etc.) than anywhere else on Earth. It also has more coastlines per unit area than any tropical place in the globe.

Latitudinal diversity is also the Philippines’ edge over other countries especially Indonesia. The Philippines is in different latitudes so it has tropical and subtropical species, unlike Indonesia, which is only tropical.

Area of Concentration for Different Species: The country is an area of concentration because of geology or ocean patterns. The genetics of populations are like fingerprints that let us track populations in time and space.

The Philippines is the Center of Origin: Dr. Carpenter theorizes that the country is a center of origin — the Philippines might be where species originated and are evolving.

Dr. Carpenter said “There is a genetic signature that species are congregating in the Philippines because it is probably their origin or coherent with their genetic makeup.  A species of sardine, for example, has been found to be also existent in the Philippines when it has been previously listed as emanating from China”.

“Unfortunately,  one-third of Reef-Building Corals Face Elevated Extinction Risk from Climate Change and Local Impacts.

The coral reefs of the Philippines are one of the most endangered in the world from overfishing, pollution and climate change, according to an international report on the state of world reefs.( Kristine L. Alave Philippine Daily Inquirer)

The World Resources Institute (WRI) and several international environmental groups in a study released in 2011, showed that 75 percent of the world’s coral reefs are threatened by local pressures such as unsustainable fishing, coastal pollution, development. In addition ocean acidification and rising sea temperatures also contribute to coral bleaching and death.

If left unchecked, more than 90 percent of reefs will be threatened by 2030 and nearly all reefs will be at risk by 2050, the report said.

The loss of reefs could be devastating for many countries. Coral reefs provide food and livelihood to about 850 million people. They also give shoreline protection and support industries like fisheries and tourism.

There are 9 nations as being the most socially and economically vulnerable to coral reef degradation and loss: Haiti, Grenada, Comoros, Vanuatu, Tanzania, Kiribati, Fiji, Indonesia and our very own Philippines.

The coral reefs in these countries face serious threats, but the governments do not have the adaptive capacity to protect them, the report said.

Compendium 468: Responsibility for the environment should also find adequate expression on a judicial tool.

The Philippines, is included among other countries which has the Coral Triangle, recognized as the global epicenter of marine biodiversity that contain at least 500 species of reef-building corals. We have the highest diversity of corals, fish, and other reef species anywhere in the world the reefs that are being threatened by unsustainable fishing and population stress.

It also noted that deforestation, massive coral bleaching in Philippine waters, overfishing (destructive fishing), unmitigated human development and the loss of mangroves have contributed to the decline of reefs in the country.

Despite the recognition our country is getting, what are we doing to our highly-heralded coral reefs?

In 1990,  only a third of coral was left from the 27,400 hectare Apo Reef off the coast of Mindoro island because of heavy fishing, including by dynamite and cyanide.

Last 2010, a cargo vessel ran aground and damaged a large coral reef off Calatagan town, Batangas City.

The USS Guardian warship, on January 22, 2013 destroyed 25,240 square feet of the protected Tubbataha reef.

Filipinos has the notoriety of using dynamite for fishing, ignoring warnings, penalties and the damage done to our coral reefs.

Writ of Kalikasan was made in 2010 by the Supreme Court of the Philippines under Rule 7 of the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases as a Special Civil Action. The Supreme Court under Chief Justice Reynato Punoby created it as a legal remedy under Philippine law which provides for the protection one’s right to “a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature,” as provided for in Section 16, Article II of the Philippine Constitution. It is compared with the writ of amparo but protects one’s right for a healthy environment rather than constitutional rights.

The writ of Kailkasan may be sought to deal with environmental damage of such magnitude that it threatens life, health, or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces.

Today the Sad State of Matanbungkay dirty Beaches and dead Coral Reefs

Today the Sad State of Matanbungkay dirty Beaches and dead Coral Reefs

Unfortunately, despite all the laws, we are destroying our marine gardens and sea shores, coral, mangroves which took millions of years to nurture, evolve and sustain itself.

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