Photography by ISO

Grave or Grace: San Fernando’s Mangroves

Perception towards Marine & Mangrove Ecosystems & Conservation

Threats to Mangroves and Marine Life in San Fernando, La Union

While San Fernando can no longer ignore their 84 hectares of mangroves and has committed to protecting and conserving its marine environment in general, rapid urban development in the city such as land reclamation and infrastructure projects continue to threaten marine life and the many marine species in the area. In Barangay Dalumpinas Oeste, developmental projects are perceived as a threat to the marine species in their barangay—the endangered pawikan, in particular, due to habitat loss and disturbance from the busy seaport and cargo ships. Nonetheless, conservation efforts are being made by numerous organizations in San Fernando to balance urbanizing activities and marine conservation and mitigate the impact of human activities on the environment. With respect to mangrove conservation, there is a need to raise awareness for the community members to recognize that their many unsustainable actions affect the environment, and that they need to commit more effort into safeguarding mangroves and other natural resources. Organizations within San Fernando actively enjoin the community members in the conservation initiatives of the local city government and CENRO to protect the marine environment. A notable accomplishment by CENRO involves successfully preventing the acquisition and conversion of mangroves behind the Lorma Medical Center into a parking lot.

Moreover, in Barangay Poro, a few sightings of the pawikan have been noted by the community members, emphasizing their wariness for the number of cargo ships in the area that continues to disturb marine species and pollute their habitat with plastic waste and oil spillages. Some pawikans have even bumped into the seaports and ships in the area. Similar threats are also experienced by the pawikan found in Barangay Dalumpinas Oeste. There have been several instances where their barangay found a dead pawikan in the area, killed by plastic ingestion or oil spillage. However, both barangays’ protection of the pawikan and other marine species is pursued, with help and support from CENRO and other private organizations to ensure the safety of marine life in San Fernando. This includes performing regular water sampling and monitoring their MPAs (Marine Protected Areas) with Bantay Dagat.

Photography by San Fernando City Local Government

Current Mangrove and Marine Species Conservation Efforts

Mangroves maintain their importance to coastal communities by minimizing the impact of storm surges, stabilizing and regulating the natural processes in both marine and coastal ecosystems, preventing riverbank erosion, and providing a home and feeding ground for fishes and other marine species, among other ecological, sociocultural, and economic benefits. The community members of San Fernando are well aware of the benefits they receive from mangroves and, consequently, their importance to the community. They see mangroves as natural coastal barriers and a natural agent for filtering and purifying water into the sea. Moreover, mangroves are a habitat for the many marine species found in San Fernando. As such, the lack of mangrove conservation poses a risk to animals in the area, such as birds, that greatly depend on mangroves’ thick branches.

While community members are generally aware and knowledgeable of endangered species, with many stakeholders recognizing the immediate importance of protecting said extinction-risk species, they were mainly concerned with the more common species found in the area that, nonetheless, equally need protection and committed human effort. For instance, in Barangay Dalumpinas Oeste, the community members reported seeing an Olive Ridley sea turtle visit their barangay during particular seasons. As such, they, along with CENRO and DOERS, have made it a regular activity to collect pawikan eggs, transfer them into hatcheries, and monitor their growth before letting them out into the unforgiving sea. To ensure the survival of the pawikan, the community members engage in learning and developing skills to monitor and take care of pawikan eggs for 40 to 70 days until the very end of the hatching process. The Turtle Season is also well known to happen from early September to March in San Fernando, according to CENRO. Further, San Fernando was also able to recover at most 1,000 pawikan eggs and safely transfer them into their pawikan hatcheries. Similarly, in Bacnotan, San Fernando, and San Juan, pawikan conservation and protection efforts are being taken by said communities while incentives are given to community members who recover and take care of any strayed pawikan eggs.

Aside from species like the pawikan, there were also reports of bird species like the Maria Capra and tikling, and other animals like the skink present in barangays of San Fernando, who require protection from the risks posed by urban developmental projects and activities such as cutting of bushes and trees. Despite being a newly industrialized zone, owls, monitor lizards, and different snake species were sighted in Barangay Poro in areas protected by the Poro Marine Protected Area (PMPA).

Photography by ISO

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