Reforestation led to town's boom

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc () - November 10, 2010 - 12:00am

PRIETO DIAZ, Sorsogon — More and more local governments and NGOs are reforesting their coastlines with mangroves. They can learn from this Pacific town how to do it by the hundreds of hectares, both to save the earth and spur the economy. It’s a success story of environment protection leading into different livelihoods.

Nearly 300 hectares of salt- and brackish-water trees have been replanted in Prieto Diaz, ten hours’ drive from Manila. The mangroves shield the shoreline from erosion, typhoons and floods. They serve as habitat of mollusks and birds, nursery of fish and crustaceans, and source of income. The few thousand residents draw not only food from the seaside forest, but also materials for shell craft that earn them some cash. Bigger bucks come from eco-tourism. Year round, high school and college students, scientists, environmentalists, government officials, and nature trippers flock by the hundreds to research or relax.

Prieto Diaz’s shoreline is Bicol’s pride, beams Sorsogon Gov. Raul Lee. In 1999 it was cited among the country’s Best Coastal Management Programs. For, by then the asparagus-thin foot-long propagules had grown to six-inch-thick trunks 15 feet high, with branches extending up to ten feet. Twenty-six native mangrove varieties thrive, and three more are being introduced experimentally. The people’s organization Seamancor (Seagrass, Mangrove, Coral; chairman Joselito Domdom, 0908-9872822) trains fellow re-foresters and supplies mangrove propagules.

The laughter of children bathing in the clean river mouth at school day’s end is one sign of a boomtown. But Prieto Diaz wasn’t always this plentiful. In the 1970s and 1980s townsfolk were cutting down mangroves for a few measly pesos a day from ten financiers. Beaches were dug up with hundreds of sandpits — furnaces to burn the wood into charcoal. Dark fumes from the dirty operations sickened the residents. Devastation of the mangroves wiped out the natural food supply. The town sank into poverty and hunger. Then-Mayor Joseph Yap sought help from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which promptly studied the locale. The woodcutters were told to stop denuding and instead replant. In only three years they began reaping the fruits of their reformed ways. When Nature used to withhold her bounty because of the forest destruction, she now gives the conservationist townsfolk rich food: crabs, clams, fish, and export-quality lobster and sea urchin (uni). Even adjacent towns like Barcelona, Sta. Magdalena and Gubat benefited, as their coasts too began to teem with marine life. (Gubat is source of the delicacy langaw-langaw, baby mangrove crab of the specie Scylla serrata.)

Prieto Diaz’s story is about the right mix of political will, scientific know-how, and people’s support. The local officials campaigned for an end to forest ruin. DENR planning officer Judy Gavarra (jgdoma@yahoo.com), one of the science researchers dispatched to Prieto Diaz, saw the potential of replanting. A 19-kilometer-long reef buffered the coast from hefty waves, her team noted then, and 800 hectares of underwater seagrass could hold the saplings upright. Yap’s mayoralty successors, one of them Benito Doma, now provincial board member, persisted with the reforestation. (Benito and Judy met at the replanting site; their love for nature blossomed into romance, and they soon wed.) Conservation became a habit of townsfolk. Fishermen passing thru the replanting zone on bancas dutifully scoop uprooted propagules from the water and stick them properly into the seabed, knowing that reforestation is for their own good. The DENR awarded Seamancor a 25-year stewardship of the 267 replanted hectares.

Schools as far as Ilocos and Davao soon heard of Prieto Diaz’s story. Science high schoolers and college biology majors arrived for weeklong field trips to study mangrove flora and fauna. Government and NGO workers too came to observe. Residents turned their homes into hostels to accommodate the visitors. Seamancor took to organizing and feeding group tours. In 2007 thousands of volunteers participated in the third replanting phase of 25,000 propagules.

Prieto Diaz’s present mayor Jocelyn Y. Lelis (0920-9207987), Yap’s daughter, is thrilled with the town’s tourism potentials. Amenities are spartan. But she and past Gov. Sally Lee believe the mangrove forest can draw in the crowds, the way gentle giant butanding (whale shark) do in neighboring Donsol town. Assigned as tourism officer is Ricky Domasic (0908-4685978).

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President Noynoy Aquino is guest of honor of UP Law’s grand alumni homecoming on November 19 at Makati Shangri-La. Broadway star Lea Salonga, singing champ Jed Madela, and the UP Pep Squad are main attractions in the affair to be hosted by Jubilarian Class of 1985.

Class ’85 includes Presidential Legal Counsel Ed de Mesa, Solicitor General Joel Cadiz, Deputy Executive Secretary Teofilo Pilando, Education Undersecretary Albert Muyot, Assistant Solicitor General Renan Ramos, former Press Secretary Mike Toledo, former Congressmen Jing Paras, Ome Candazo, and Ruy Lopez, former Comelec commissioner Mehol Sadain, and former National Telecommunications Commission head Pope Solis.

For tickets and other inquiries, contact Atty. Rose Amatong Buendia, (02) 9316571 or (0917) 5778695, J Castro, Bong Somera, Dot Gancayco, Maricar Madrid-Crost, Melva Evangelista-Valdez, Tips San Juan, Bernadette Guico-Juarez, Joy Pena, Sabino Padilla, Mike Toledo, Melina Bagadion-Saldejeno, Elsa Divinagracia, Ogie Narvasa or Linda Jimeno.

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”It is not failure that is hard to bear, but the feeling of being a failure.” Shafts of Light, Fr. Guido Arguelles, SJ

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E-mail: jariusbondoc@workmail.com

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