Park project killed mangrove cover in Iloilo River

August 07, 2017 05:22pm

Nestor P. Burgos Jr.


ILOILO CITY - A government-funded lateral park meant to showcase the beauty and cleanliness of the Iloilo River has resulted in the dying of at least four dozens of grown mangrove trees.

The mangroves near the Iloilo Bridge along the Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr. Avenue have died and or dying after these parts of the river bank have been diked, according to retired scientist and mangrove specialist Jurgenne Primavera.

"The trees are submerged and cannot breath," Primavera, who was cited in 2008 by Time magazine as one of its "Heroes of the Environment" for her work on environmental and mangrove protection, said.

Primavera said mangroves are by nature submerged only 30 percent of the time and their roots are exposed most of the time.

"Tidal flow is most critical for mangroves that is why they should have built the drain pipes first before diking the area," she told the INQUIRER.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Western Visayas earlier raised concern over the impact of the construction of the lateral parks on mangroves along the Iloilo River.

(The Iloilo River while so named is an estuary or an arm of the sea where freshwater and seawater mix.)

Jim Sampulna, DENR Western Visayas executive director, has called the attention of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in Western Visayas on the mangrove trees that are affected by the Iloilo Esplanade projects.

Sampulna said around five mangrove trees are dying or have died because of changes in water salinity due to reclamation of parts of the Iloilo River.

"There is more freshwater because access to seawater has been blocked," Sampulna told the INQUIRER.

Primavera said it was the total water immersion of the mangroves that are killing the trees.

The trees are from 10 to 20 years old mostly belonging to the Bungalon (Avicennia marina) and some to the Pagatpat (Sonneratia alba) species.

DPWH Western Visayas Assistant Director Al Fruto said cross drains are part of the design of the project to allow the water to reach the mangrove trees.

He said they are also planning to earth-ball or replant mangrove trees that will be affected by the project.

"We avoid the trees as much as possible," he said.

Earth-balling involves digging up grown trees including their roots and transferring these to other areas instead of cutting them.

But Primavera said earth-balling of mangrove trees is not effective and is impractical because of the risk of exposing the roots and root hairs of mangroves.

She cited the thousands of mangrove trees that were affected and had died in the construction of the Iloilo Flood Control project.

"We will look into their design because the killing of mangroves violate Republic Act 7161," Sampulna said.

Three esplanade projects are being built along the Iloilo River with a budget of P230 million.

This the esplanade from the Iloilo Bridge at the Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr. Avenue to Jalandoni Bridge (Esplanade 4) and another one from Jalandoni Bridge to Forbes Bridge (Esplanade 6).

Another esplanade is being constructed from the Iloilo Bridge to Barangay Nabitasan in La Paz District (Esplanade 5).

The existing Esplanade 1 and Esplanade 2 which run parallel from the Iloilo Bridge to Carpenter's Bridge in Molo District have become a tourist destination and a popular recreational area for Ilonggos for walking, jogging, open-air dining and venue for river water sports.

Primavera urged the DENR to ensure that the mangroves are protected, especially in government projects.

"How was the project granted an (Environmental Certificate of Compliance? Public consultations should have been conducted because of its impact on our environment," she said.

She noted that the esplanade projects result in the narrowing of the estuary due to reclamation.

"Expansion and development should be inward to protect the mangroves," she said.

She said mangroves should be provided "utmost protection" amid the worsening impact of climate change. She cited the important contribution of mangroves in carbon storage and coastal protection.