Eco-tourism in mangroves PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 24 September 2013 00:00

Mangroves (“bakhawan” in local term) play a vital role in maintaining the balance of our ecosystem especially as a sanctuary for migratory birds, breeding and feeding sites of marine species. Scientific studies have proven too that it absorbs carbon monoxide the primary cause of air pollution. For this reason, preservation and planting of mangroves is encouraged worldwide. It acts as a vital link of our food sources as well plays a major role in preventing global warming.

Locally, our Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in partnership with the City Environment Natural Resources Office (CENRO) have mangrove re-planting programs. They provide mangrove seedlings and teach people willing to learn how to plant it properly. I had the opportunity one time to join a mangrove re-planting project of the Rotary Club of Zamboanga City under the helm of its past president Jun Kwan in Sta. Cruz Island as part his priority programs during his term.

Zamboanga City is blessed to have a long coastal line. This is one of the main reasons why our city has an abundant of marine products from fishes, sea shells, crabs, shrimps, lobsters, seaweeds, sea cucumbers, etc. that is affordable in our local markets and is exported abroad.

In the city’s East Coast particularly, the coastal areas are teemed with mangrove trees from Rio Hondo, Sta.Barbara, Talon-Talon, Mampang, Taluksangay, and upwards. It has served as a source of income for people living in these barangays particular for fisher folks and seaweed farmers. The siege caused by the Misuari-“MNLF bandits” has not only displaced a lot of people but has affected livelihood that made life’s conditions of Zamboanga City miserable. These outlaws have even used the mangroves as a shield!

I had the opportunity to visit Kalibo, Aklan recently and went to one of their tourism attractions – the Bakhawan Eco-Park “The Green Pearl of Kalibo.” From a mere area of mudflats, it is now a must visit 220 hectare nature park offering a 1.1 eco-trail or walk for people to appreciate the wonders of God’s creation. At the end of the trail, one can view and be refreshed with an open sea. There are cottages along the way to rest and for picnic.

A tourist guide will accompany and explain how the program started, and the roles mangrove plays in our environment. You can buy “pasalubong” at their souvenir shop, and at their canteen, try the place’s exotic delicacy, “tamilok,” a mangrove woodworm. Crabs are also for sale. This project was started by KASAMA (Kalibo Save the Mangrove Association Inc.) and supported by the local government, DENR, and other private organizations. This nature park has received local, national and international awards for its exemplary environmental success.

Bakhawan Eco-Park is located at New Buswang, Kalibo, Aklan. A ten minute tricycle ride from town proper costs only P10 per person.

Inspired with the Bakhawan Eco-Park, I believe that Zamboanga City can also convert the mangroves along our coastal line into tourist attractions (include Sta. Cruz Island). Aside from livelihood opportunities, our authorities can assign locals to be its guardians and be responsible to report if bad elements are intruding or passing thru it.

If ever our government pushes thru with the housing project for the evacuees, it should consider these people are used in living near the sea as it is their place of income. Don’t relocate them away from coastal areas. They may not be used in planting upland crops and most may not be qualified to do other jobs.  Government agencies like DOST, TESDA, DAR-Fishery, and DTI can teach them livelihood skills and find opportunities in mangrove areas.

The international recognized and multi-awarded Yellow Hope Foundation is doing a great job at Layag-Layag, a coastal community in Talon-Talon. Thru their sponsors, donated yellow colored bancas ferries people to dry land, a learning center and mosque was built. Deserving students are given also educational scholarships. But since I am stranded outside of Zamboanga City, I hope Layag-Layag has not been affected (and “infected”!) with the wayward Misuari group.
More about the Yellow Hope “Layag-Layag” in the next Pep Talk issue. I will share why this is a model community and a potential eco-tourism area.

By Dante Corteza