Breaking waves

We live next to mangrove forests along Cansaga Bay in Consolacion town.  Looking at the wide expanse of greenery from our window, there is little hint that it’s actually the sea out there. The view is always breathtaking especially at dusk when the sky turns red as the sun dips into  distant hills that start to twinkle with electric lights.

A year ago, when we moved here there were fewer homes in our subdivision. We always found fireflies straying into the  house at night. They came from the mangroves. One time, when I was about to turn on the lights in the bedroom, I caught one blinking like a tiny fallen star on my pillow.

The bay can get  really dark at night. It’s hard to imagine a place like this still exists just a  hundred meters  from a big shopping mall that opened last year. In the morning, it is refreshing to bike or jog to the bridge over the delta just to listen to the murmur of the current and to take snapshots of egrets flying over bamboo fish pens that look like outdoor installation art.

The serenity belies the anxiety of  people living near the bay, particularly those on the banks of the adjacent river,  whenever there is a typhoon or even if it just rains hard for an hour or so.

The flooding has gotten worse over the years, according to the habal-habal driver I talked to on my way home right after the last big flood that submerged the unpaved road in knee-high water. He blamed the recent housing projects that cleared the hills of forest cover and the lack of a drainage system.

But the boom in real estate “development,” triggered by the new shopping mall, is beginning to encroach on the bay, reclaiming hectares of mangroves that should have been public domain and part of a protected area.

The sudden popularity of a restaurant sprawling with cottages on stilts where you could go fishing for milkfish and order fresh oysters farmed right there has triggered a bandwagon of similar businesses.

The one near the bridge has recently added cottages. There’s also one right beside our subdivision, hidden under the shade of tall mangroves.

I predict that in the next few years, more seafood restaurants will be built in this mangrove area. More and more buildings will also rise, such as the police training facility that recently opened on reclaimed portions of the delta. The billboard announcing approval by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources still stands beside the freshly white-washed walls of the boot camp.

I fear that this will further constrict the natural passageways of water pouring from rivers out to the sea, increasing the risk of flooding. The day before Yolanda came to Cebu, a vehicle with a public address system roamed around our place urging people living near the river and along the coastlines to evacuate. One of them is our garbage collector, an old man who said that he couldn’t leave his house and that it was all up to God.

Our place is elevated by about a story high, so we were not that worried either. Still, I put all my valuables in big plastic boxes or wrapped them in garbage bags just in case water would rise to  our first floor or if winds would blow away our roof. One could never be too sure with a supertyphoon, I thought at that time as I stocked up on food and water and covered our windows with plywood.

I was glad that my  worst  expectations  did not happen. But learning about how the storm surge in Leyte reached as high as three floors, I now fear that it might actually still happen to us if another supertyphoon hits Cebu, which, in this age of climate change, is not unlikely.

On the other hand, I find a little reassurance that we are surrounded by mangroves that, as proven in Northern Samar during Yolanda, may actually serve as the best buffer against storm surges and a tsunami. These natural wave breakers will soften the impact of big waves as they approach land.

Efforts of residents in Northern Samar to restore and expand mangrove forests have paid off. In contrast, the lack of mangroves along the coastline of Tacloban City has made the city vulnerable to tidal waves triggered by the cyclone.

The view from our window provides a different sense of comfort. But I fear it might not last long. Unless those of us in Consolacion do something.


The absence of trust