Guardians of ancient ‘mangrove highway’
AROROY, Masbate—As sunlight faded that late afternoon, Zaldy Casidsid dipped his paddle again into the brackish waters of the mangrove forest in Barangay (village) Tigbao in Aroroy town, Masbate province.
Before ending yet another tour into the nearly 10-hectare mangrove area in Sitio (settlement) Tangig in Tigbao, he looked up at the tall trees and mused how most of these are older than many elders in his village. “These trees have been around for more than a century,” he said.
Casidsid, 36, is the president of the Buklod Fisherfolk and Farmers Association, a group of farmers and fishermen who got together for fun and a mutual love of farming and gardening in 1999. He and his friends were youngsters then and today, they have been officially deputized to protect and nourish the Centennial Mangrove Heritage Park in Aroroy.
Tigbao’s forest is part of the larger Mangrove Highway of Aroroy, a 70-kilometer arboreal stretch hugging the shore from the town to the other coastal village of Matalangtalang.
Virgilio Natural Jr. of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Integrated Coastal Resource Management Project (ICRMP), said Buklod had been tasked by the government with guarding and conserving the mangrove in preparation for its declaration as a marine sanctuary in 2015.
Casidsid said he and his fellow members took up the challenge before they were formally registered as an association in 2011.
The DENR and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) provided the group with assistance worth more than P380,000 to buy high-grade life vests, small boats for paddling through the tunnel of mangroves and two bigger ones, and to build a tree house, complete with kitchen, which the members use as a gathering place and reception area for tourists and visitors.
After pledging to protect the ancient trees, Buklod members refrained from using nails and concrete on the bamboo walks that weave through tree branches. “We do not want to hurt these trees,” Casidsid said.
The place used to be the habitat of alligators, many bird species and mudskippers before some farmers began cutting the trees to make charcoal. Casidsid used to be one of them before he became aware of the importance of mangroves during a DENR campaign.
In Matalangtalang, Erlito Tupas heads the Sama-Sama Fisherfolk Association, a group tasked by the DENR-ICRMP with safeguarding the 37-hectare Matalangtalang Marine Sanctuary from illegal fishers. Tupas and the 57 members of his group take turns in inspecting the boundaries to discourage fishermen from fishing there.
According to Natural, spinner dolphins were among those hunted in the area until the government stepped in and organized Buklod and Sama-Sama.
With the help of Bantay-Dagat (sea watch group), the two organizations can arrest illegal fishermen to conserve the marine sanctuary and the mangrove forest, which serves as nursery to marine life in Aroroy.
To ensure “proper indoctrination,” incoming members must attend three consecutive weekly seminars, Casidsid said. This is to ensure that the new member would remember by heart and apply the objectives of the organizations, he adds.
The new member is also required to plant 100 mangrove propagules as a form of declaration of his commitment, he says. Moreover, the person must ensure that the propagules will grow into maturity to become part of the expanding mangrove highway.
As part of ICRMP goals of giving livelihood assistance to groups like Buklod, the BFAR established an aquaculture area in the mangroves to provide members extra income from culturing king crabs, Casidsid said.
Buklod is also planning to put up a reflexology center in the tree house to give the women and some men in the group another means to earn money.
The local government, on the other hand, is giving Sama-Sama and Buklod members basic training in bookkeeping and tour guiding to prepare them for the opening of an ecotourism effort that would welcome tourists and visitors to experience the Tigbao and Matalangtalang marine reserves, reveals Natural.
The DENR is helping the people of Aroroy in creating costing and tourism packages for Matalangtalang and Tigbao, he adds.
According to Casidsid, fireflies can be seen at night in Tigbao, an additional treat for visitors along with bird-watching while boating through the tunnel of trees.
Matalangtalang is also a favorite snorkeling area with its abundant sea grasses and corals hosting multiple varieties of fish under its clear waters.
Amazing sunsets can be observed from Matalangtalang. It is also a good area for stargazing.