Saturday, December 25, 2004

Adding green to the mud pie in your eye



BACOLOD -- Most beachfront property owners here opt for an uncluttered view of their sunset, a neat unbroken sweep of the horizon facing the Guimaras Strait smack on the western end of Negros island.

Shore settlement dwellers take a similar view that has tamped down any attempt to dab a bit of green in the coastal marshes and mud flats dotting the shoreline. However, enterprising marginal fisherfolks have studded the shallow portions with fish corrals called baklad while others are content to grub for various species of clams, oysters, and crabs among the shoals.

Negros-based project coordinator David G. Castor for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) endemic tree species conservation scheme noted that "mangrove forests once teemed Negros island's coastal marshes and mud flats in the 19th century. We find those mangrove-grown coastal parts defined in maps of the 1800s. The remaining bakawan species are now confined to estuaries and mud banks of rivers flowing into the Guimaras Strait."

Castor related that local conservationist groups have made quixotic attempts to bring back pockets of such dead-and-gone mangrove forests but "beachfront property owners, indifferent local officials and coastal settlers have thwarted these attempts to re-green the shoreline."

However, a beachfront property owner -- an oil industry giant -- in Bacolod's southwestern skirts has begun a modest initiative to bring back a whit of green to a slice of the straits coast covered by the property.

As prevailing laws have it, public domain or government property boundaries begin after five meters off the water's edge. So the property owner can do whatever he desires with that five meter onshore margin which legally accrues to the beachfront property. Nobody would take the owner to court for taking liberties and inflicting far-fetched schemes (like raising the Swamp Thing) on that five-meter margin -- not a beach front but a slice off a mushy mud pie sprinkled with barnacle-patched rocks and debris chunks.

With legal niceties duly considered, it took little convincing for the current property steward and installation chief Efren V. Domingo to put to work a scheme that would be a throwback to the 19th century, a quixotic try putting back dabs of green on that slime-and-mud backyard adjunct to the 1.6-hectare property. Fenced in by a sturdy seawall, the property neatly houses a cluster of fuel tanks, several pocket gardens, a smattering of palms and trees amid huge dots of manicured lawns and a group of squat buildings -- a Shell installation.

As he pointed to a patch of mud and brine, Domingo outlined an arrow-straight 1.9-kilometer fuel pipeline leading out to the Guimaras Strait. Except for strewn-about fishing boats and scattered bamboo baklad, only the hunched figures of shellfish gatherers broke the horizon.

"Shellfish gatherers pry off the rocks a species of oysters. It's called sisi. Tinutungkab nila pati 'yong mga nakadikit sa pipeline. That can wear out the pipeline's outer protective coating," he explained.

Aside from a longer pipeline, completing an envisioned "new look" for the mudflats off the installation coastline would be a line of mangrove trees -- dabs of growing green in an otherwise dreary backdrop. This writer broached the bakawan idea to Domingo.

An erstwhile Parañaque resident who has moved with his family to this genteel Western Visayan capital, Domingo learned that the mangrove stand cultivated at the Baclaran, Parañaque-Las Piñas coastline had helped check the worsening level of Manila Bay's water pollution. Bakawan roots absorb and neutralize water pollutants while providing a natural sanctuary and nursery for fish fry, crabs, lobsters and other aquatic denizens. Prized as fuelwood for firing kilns and bakery ovens and as timber material for railroad ties, the sturdy mangrove grows too slow like most hardwood trees -- even five-year old trees stand less than a meter.

Besides, a line of mangrove -- with spread out roots taking on the look of legs standing on slushy ground -- somehow look like a saraband of beauty contestants displaying their charms. Thus convinced, Efren picked out a most appropriate day to plant mangrove propagules, the mature fruit-seedlings. This writer procured two dozen propagules from an existing stand in a squatters' colony beside one of the rivers flowing into Guimaras Strait.

La Niña-induced rains poured in the next few days. When rain clouds cleared up, the daytime high tide turned the mud flats waist-deep to spoil our plans. We finally got the mangrove planting rites done after several foiled attempts. Shaking our heads in chagrin, we waded and sloshed in the dark to plant the seedlings as the tide ebbed beginning at 7 p.m., a Thursday night.

"Are we doing it right?" Efren wondered aloud.

"We're putting up permanent bait. Build this and they'll come and we'll eat 'em -- rock lobsters, blue crabs, diwal, scallops, sirens and mermaids," I assured him.

"I'm afraid we don't have green thumbs," he chuckled.

"We've got a green mind-set. Beats a green thumb anytime."

All it takes to plant propagules is to stab each into the slush. As the mudflat surroundings was pitch-black on that night, the mangrove planting efforts can be taken literally as a stab in the dark -- suksok at saksak sa dilim.

The planting done, we repaired to a downtown eatery to call it a day with pangantot (panga at buntot),cansi (Bacolod version of bulalo) and beers, keeping our fingers crossed that such stabs in the dark would turn up in years as an eye-pleasing sight, a belt of green breaking the drabness of a mud pie in our eyes.



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