New book “Beach Forest Species and Mangrove Associates of the Philippines”

Philippine beach forestThis new book’s bland title can fool you. “Beach Forest Species and Mangrove Associates of the Philippines” is not a mere compilation of “mine-eyes-glaze-over” descriptions of 97 species. This study provides insights beyond devastated mangroves to uplands scalped of tree cover. It sketches a paradox: One of the least studied ecosystems is more promising.

“Coastal forests… are not familiar to the average Filipino due to their early loss,” note co-authors Jurgenne Primavera and Resurreccion Sadaba. “They’ve long gone unreported in the yearly Philippine Forestry Statistics… ”

But the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and sea-level rise from global warming changed all that. They highlighted the neglected but increasingly needed “bioshield” role of “beach forest-mangrove belts.”

Typhoon “Frank” in 2008, Tropical Storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” in 2009, and Typhoons “Pedring,” “Quiel” and “Ramon” in 2011 exposed the lack of protective greenbelts. Beach forests thrive under full sunlight, inadequate water and poor nutrient conditions. They’re useful also for rehabilitation.

Time Magazine listed Primavera as one of the world’s top 100 environmental scientists. Sadaba is a full-time professor at the University of the Philippines-Visayas. Both collaborated in the 2004 “Handbook of Mangroves in the Philippines.”

Beach forests are a “veritable botica or pharmacy, grocery and hardware store all rolled into one.” They provide fruits, tubers, even dental floss. A favorite to flavor fish kinilaw is the tabon-tabon fruit. “Food and water are naturally packaged for transport in cocos nucifera,” they note. Tagalogs know it as niyog. That’s lubi in Bisayan or lahing in Tausug.

Many cities, towns and barangays sport “beach jungle names. Molave (vitex parviflora) is known as tugas. Eight towns from Aklan, Leyte to Zamboanga del Norte bear that name. Pitogo is cycas edentata. Three Pitogo towns are in Bohol, Iloilo and Zamboanga del Sur.

Full-time workloads for Primavera and Sadaba almost derailed what is the first hard look at “supratidal plants”—species that flourish “above the high tide line beyond mangrove’s natural limits.”

“We started field sampling in 2007” from Aklan, Eastern Samar to Masbate, Primavera and Sadaba recall. “We excluded most exotics, plus a few species no longer found in the highly degraded Panay coastline…. We included the traditionally important palm M. Sagu found in Agusan swamps” and some from landward basin mangroves.

Both scientists slogged on, although local residents chopped down some samples “out of need or ignorance.” Termites wrecked some specimens and data sheets kept in extended storage.

In a mini-forest in Oton, Iloilo, only 40 out of 60 native species planted survived the harsh El Niño of 2010. The hardy survivors were mostly beach flora. “Of particular interest are seeds collected from a tree of M. Pinnata in 2007. By 2011, this tree bore flowers, fruits and wilding for the next year.

“This is a remarkable performance,” the book notes. “The nitrogen-fixing M. Pinnata and other pioneer beach trees” could play an expanded role in the National Greening Program. This 2012-2016 project seeks to plant 1.5 billion trees over a denuded 1.5 million hectares, in the teeth of persistent illegal logging.

Cocos nucifera is among the most taken-for-granted beach flora. The coconut palm towers in 68 of 79 provinces. Its kind sprawls over 27 percent of agricultural land. Food, wine, roofing and, in these timber-short days, wood come from this tree. When you factor in their families, you find that livelihoods for 10 million Filipinos pivot around this tree. Cocos nucifera is a fixture in color-drenched Fernando Amorsolo paintings

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