by Oliver Samson
PRIETO DIAZ, Sorsogon—The successful rehabilitation of the sprawling mangrove forest here by a group of residents has boosted the eco-tourism program of this municipality found 36 kilometers southeast of Sorsogon City.
The group calling itself Seagrass, Mangrove and Coral (Seamancor) has a 500-hectare replanted mangrove forest story to tell, said Crisanta Marlene Rodriguez, a Community Environment and Natural Resources Office, officer in charge.
When nature-trippers began arriving in 1998, livelihood had also started to take root, said Seamancor President Joselito Domdom.
Domdom linked success to the suitability of the Pacific Ocean for saltwater tree, technical knowledge, strategy, discipline and vigilance.
In the 1980s many of the mangroves were cut down by locals for charcoal. Joseph Yap, mayor at the time, asked backing from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
In response, the DENR addressed the cutting of mangroves. People who made their living mostly from fishing were organized to replant through the help of local officials, Domdom said.
The mangrove reserve was awarded to Seamancor by the DENR in 1997 for a 25-year stewardship contract renewable for another term, he said.
Of the total area stretching across 11 barangays, the 267 hectares that needed reforestation were successfully replanted with 1,180,000 seedlings after several phases. They are now fully grown, Domdom said.
Helping are the DENR for scientific know-how, the Department of Tourism (DOT) for tourism matters, and individuals who love to do a share for Mother Nature, he said.
As an ecotourism spot, the saltwater forest is bringing in money for the group, and provides members with extra income for cooking, taking and serving orders, dishwashing and housekeeping, Domdom said.
Their guests include students, environmentalists, researchers and other people who come for a few days’ visit, he said.
The tours are mostly educational, with five buses coming in at times, Domdom said.
“We introduce to them different species, and explain why they are important,” he said, noting that “19 species thrive in Prieto Diaz, with the bakawan bato outnumbering the others.”
“Mangrove forest is the mother of the sea. It is the home of juvenile marine creatures until they mature, ready for open water,” Domdom said.
Mangroves also serve as dry-land’s barrier to seawater, typhoon and source of food, said Rodriguez. It serves as a sanctuary for crustaceans and home to mollusks.
Seamancor can take 40 people at a time in its lodging house at Sabang Beach, which serves as take-off point for the mangrove exploration, Domdom said.
For an P800 package deal, the guest is served with meals, accommodated overnight and toured in the day. Motor boats are prohibited, since Seamancor keeps ongoing lectures and protects avian species inhabiting the bushes from noises, he said. Package price may vary on food choices.
Two fiberglass boats were donated by the DOT, making fiberglass boats four, and two wooden boats from the Philippine Business for Social Progress, Domdom said.
For every group of 10 visitors not staying overnight, P500 is charged for the tour covering rentals for boat, life vests and a P125 honorarium for the bankero for each trip, he said.
Domdom finds feeding their guests a rewarding business.
“Catering is very profitable,” he said, noting that “it brings in much of our income.”
Local fishermen have come to favor doing services for guests than going deep-sea fishing, Domdom said.
“Our members prefer to work for tourists than go fishing. When income is good, we give them bonus,” he said.
Domdom said the group adheres to a “no work, no pay” policy.
The group acquired a sound system and a videoke set to treat guests to music, he said.
They also generate income from catering and renting out tables, chairs, utensils and new collapsible tents for wedding occasions, birthday parties and other social gatherings, Domdom said.
Putting in additional revenue are mangrove seedlings that sell for 50 centavos apiece. Twenty-five centavos go to the propagule collector, the other half to the organization, he said.
The greenish propagule, which looks like a tiny cucumber, is the size of the small finger and the length of the foot. It doesn’t need nursing in a seedbed and is planted directly after collected, Domdom said.
Seamancor, with 80 active members, is sourced for propagules. Last year it sold more than a million seedlings. A total of 900,000 pieces were dispatched to Camarines Sur alone, he said.
These “mangrove guards” manage with vigilance and continuous replanting since storms and pests can kill the trees. Cutting the woods for charcoal has been controlled, he said.
Seamancor is a recipient of the Center for Environment Concerns’ Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan in 2009 and was cited by the DENR among the country’s Best in Coastal Resource Management in 1999, Domdom said.
Original article is published at Business Mirror on January 8, 2012.