By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer
A shower of flying “stars” will soon accompany whale sharks in Donsol, Sorsogon province, thanks to a massive mangrove planting project on the coast of one of the country’s top tourist draws.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Philippines started to plant 10,000 mangrove seedlings in Donsol’s Sibago village last December to enhance and protect the ecosystem that is shared by whale sharks and tiny organisms like plankton and fireflies.
The mangroves enrich nutrients along the coast and in the water, attracting both whale sharks and fireflies, the WWF said.
“Whale sharks congregate in Donsol because of the plankton. Plankton consume nutrients discharged by Donsol’s still-healthy rivers, one of the few habitats where fireflies still thrive,” said WWF-Philippines project manager Raul Burce.
“Remove mangroves and the fireflies shall be driven off. Without the healthy rivers needed by fireflies, plankton populations cannot bloom and the whale sharks will migrate elsewhere. If one component crashes, the others follow suit. This can be catastrophic for the people of Donsol,” Burce said.
The project in Donsol came on the heels of the government’s new tourism campaign with the slogan “It’s more fun in the Philippines.”
The WWF said Donsol was an example of how good environmental management and tourism programs could improve the lives of communities.
WWF-Philippines CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan said: “The key here is balance. Without it, the productivity of our natural systems will crash. Strike a balance between conservation and development, and we can ensure sustainability.”
Donsol’s economy has boomed as tourists flock to its waters to see the whale sharks.
A total of 24,191 local and foreign visitors swam with the gentle giants from December to June 2011.
Donsol’s municipal tourism office estimated that the 2010 season alone generated more than P100 million from transportation, food, lodging, registration fees, and whale shark, mangrove and firefly tours.
Around P20 million was retained by the local government, bolstering incomes and improving lives.
Known in Filipino as “bakawan,” mangroves are considered to be one of the most productive of marine habitats—able to generate 500 kilograms of seafood per hectare annually.
The roots of the trees provide shelter for marine life, and their fallen leaves are used for food.
The roots of the mangroves also absorb heavy trace metals, minimizing coastal erosion and preventing inland saltwater contamination.
Mangroves also protect the soil from erosion and the communities from storm surges caused by typhoons. This is important for the residents of Donsol as they live in a region frequented by tropical storms.
The importance of mangroves in the Philippines, with its 36,289 kilometers of coastline and a largely shore-borne population, has been recognized by the environment and agriculture departments.
Recently, the Department of Agriculture earmarked P237.5 million for the planting of new mangroves and the setting up of “aquasilvi” projects in coastal communities.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources also included mangroves as a priority area in its national greening program.