For several decades now, the island of Siargao has been synonymous to the breath-taking waves that barrel down on surfers in the famed Cloud 9 surf spot, regarded as a global surfing mecca.
But in recent years, an expansive mangrove forest has been vying for tourist’s attention in the neighboring town of Del Carmen which has been experiencing a turnaround in negative environmental practices.
Thanks to the growing ecological awareness brought about by Shore It Up, a comprehensive marine ecosystem and coastal resource program of the Metro Pacific Investment Corp. (MPIC).
The coastal town is home to a 4,000-hectare contiguous mangrove forest known locally as “bakhawan”, the biggest of its kind in the archipelago and home to a rare saltwater crocodile specie.
The program’s centerpiece is the Mangrove Protection and Information Center, a hub for the rehabilitation and nurture of the coastal ecosystem.
The program has been working closely with various agencies and organizations across the country to preserve the mangrove forests, which protect coastal communities against storms and serve as habitats for aquatic life.
According to Del Carmen Mayor Alfredo Coro II, about a 95-percent threat reduction of mangrove cutting from 2014 up to the present has been noted, based on visual observation and bio-physical assessment conducted by environmental NGO Sikat Inc.
The combined forces of municipal Bantay Dagat and police have also recorded a 70-percent reduction based on visual observation for the same period, due to the law enforcement agencies’ regular apprehensions of violators of marine environmental laws.
Coro also disclosed that there is an 85 percent average survival rate for the 800 hectares of mangroves planted under the Shore It Up program.
Del Carmen’s vast mangrove forest has also become a major tourist destination in Siargao with 21 boat operators doing from three to four trips per day, which has generated income for the local economy. The tourism program recently graduated four mangrove tour ecoguides that have undergone an intense weeklong training.
He said that these statistics prove the effectiveness of the program and shift in the mindset that mangroves are simply used as ornaments or firewood.
In the recent staging of Shore It Up in July, the program conducted its educational component, the Junior Environmental Scouts (JES) for 80 school children to heighten public opinion against illegal marine activities.
Coro said the municipal council has also declared through an ordinance the first week of March as “Shore It Up Week” to keep the momentum which includes cleanups and the Run for the Mangroves marathon which has heightened public awareness on the importance of the mangroves.
As a result of its efforts, Del Carmen has been given the Environmental Hero Award by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
“Since its inception in 2009, Shore It Up has mustered over 75,000 volunteers from Metro Pacific firms, the government sector, academe and civil society groups in activities such as mangrove and tree planting, giant clam rearrangement, artificial reef restoration and environmental education for school children, and livelihood for coastal villagers,” says MPIC Vice President for PR and corporate communications Melody Del Rosario.
She added that conglomerate has also embarked on the infrastructure ends of marine environmental restoration with the construction of another mangrove center in Alaminos City, Pangasinan, and a marine laboratory at the dive sites in Mabini, Batangas, the first of its kind in the country.
She noted that in addition to Siargao’s mangrove center, MPIC is also looking at the rehabilitation of Sugba Lagoon to make it a potential spot for eco-friendly aquasports such as kayaking and scuba diving.