Mangroves shielded Sagay islets’ residents
SAGAY CITY, Negros Occidental—With monster winds, Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: “Haiyan”) roared through the mangroves off Sagay City’s three islets of Molacaboc on Nov. 8, shearing branches and blowing them every which way, but failing to bring down any of the hardy trees.
“The mangroves are still standing, but there are circles in the middle where the branches of the trees had been sheared … They helped save us from the fury of Yolanda,” Milane Desamparado said.
Desamparado, who lives on Molocaboc Diut but teaches at Molocaboc Integrated School on Molocaboc Daku, believes the mangroves growing on many parts of the islet are buffers against the wind and waves.
Roger Rochar, the school principal, can attest to that.
“I was in the house when [Yolanda struck] so I did not see the action in the mangrove area. But by the looks of it, places where there are no mangroves were the ones badly hit,” Rochar said.
Yolanda’s powerful winds toppled many houses and heaved 5-meter storm surges that destroyed fishing boats. But the three islets that compose Molocaboc village suffered no casualties, village chief Antonio Pasaylo said.
The mangroves that line the shorelines of Molocaboc Daku, Molocaboc Diut and Matabas shielded the residents against Yolanda’s wrath, although it was the evacuations before the typhoon arrived that saved lives, he said.
Nevertheless, the national government has recognized the defensive value of mangroves to coastal communities and is encouraging local governments to develop green walls of mangrove and beach forests as natural protection against storms.
“Mangroves are natural barriers against tsunamis [and] storm surges [and they] should not be destroyed,” Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said in Manila on Wednesday.
Paje announced a P347-million project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that would see 19 million mangrove seedlings and seedlings of other beach-forest trees like the talisay planted on 1,900 hectares of coastline.
Paje said most of the coastlines damaged by Yolanda were once mangrove swamps and beach forests and they were converted into settlements by informal settlers or for development.
“Had the mangroves in Leyte and Eastern Samar provinces not been decimated, the storm surge in those areas would have been dissipated by 70 to 80 percent,” Paje said.
Paje cited a study by the Department of Science and Technology that showed that the strength of an 8-m storm surge is concentrated within the lower 6 m, with only the upper 2 m having tidal power.
“The surge can destroy the leaves, but it cannot uproot the mangroves because they are so deeply rooted and strong,” Paje said.
The Molacaboc islets are found in the eastern part of Sagay, bound in the north by the Visayan Sea and in the south by the Tañon Strait.
The islets can be reached by boat in 20 to 45 minutes from the Vito and Old Sagay ports.
Molocaboc Daku has an area of 147 hectares and a population of about 1,600. It is 7 kilometers away from the mainland at Vito Sagay.
Molocaboc Diut has an area of 120 hectares and a population of about 600. It is connected to Daku by a footwalk.
Matabas is 80 hectares and it has a population of 250.
Pasaylo said Yolanda battered the islets for almost four hours starting at mid-morning on Nov. 8. Luckily, it was low tide.
“There was zero visibility. You could barely see a person a foot away. The winds roared like airplanes flying toward you,” he said.
Jose Dalisay, principal of Matabas Elementary School, said the mangroves on one side of Matabas served as pads against the rushing waves.
“I discovered that on the other side [where there were no] mangroves, the solid stone was destroyed by the big waves… . We attempted to plant mangroves in that area, but failed due to the waves. Mangroves for us are important to protect the entire island of Matabas,” Dalisay said.
Molocaboc village has 500 ha of mangroves, 100 ha of which have been reforested, according to Lilibeth Cordova, an environmentalist who works closely with the island communities.
The three islets are part of the 32,000-ha Sagay Marine Reserve where massive mangrove reforestation, regeneration of corals and marine habitat and a strict ban on illegal fishing have long been in force.
Former Sagay Mayor Alfredo Marañon Jr., now governor of Negros Occidental province, launched the marine sanctuary in the 1970s.
When he was a congressman, he authored Republic Act No. 9106, which called for the establishment and management of Sagay Marine Reserve. The law was enacted on April 14, 2001.
In Molocaboc, 85 percent of the residents rely on fishing for their livelihood, and they practice sea ranching.
By creating an artificial habitat on the seabed using used tires and large rocks, fishermen draw fish to their miracle hole and, in three to four months, harvest about 20 kilos of fish, Pasaylo said.
Desamparado said Yolanda’s winds began to hit Molocaboc Diut, where she lives, at 4 a.m., followed by a fog-like darkness that engulfed the place. By 9:30 a.m., the islet felt the full force of the typhoon.
“If you attempted to get out of your house, you had to crawl to avoid being blown away,” she said.
Earlier, many people sought refuge in stronger houses, but even some concrete houses were “pulverized,” Desamparado said.
“We were lucky Yolanda did not land at night and the tide was low, or we could have been washed out to the sea,” she said.
“Our mangroves took the brunt. Some were uprooted while the branches of the rest were broken,” she said.
Desamparado now believes that “it is important for islets like ours to have mangroves because they help mitigate the gravity of a typhoon.”
Haide Rublico, principal of Molocaboc Diut Elementary School, said four buildings of her school were damaged, but those in the area shielded by mangroves sustained no damage.
Mangroves also helped cushion the blows of Yolanda on Suyac Island, according to Melanie Mermida, secretary of Suyac Island Eco-Tourism Association and Suyac Island Fishermen’s Association.
Some of the houses were damaged, but no one died, Mermida said.
The 1.8-ha Suyac islet, 3 km from mainland Sagay, has a population of 782 and a 4-ha mangrove area.
Suyac Island Mangrove Eco-Park, where one can walk on a path through century-old mangroves, is a tourist destination, though it is temporarily closed for repairs.—With a report from DJ Yap
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