‘Like the Molave’ in coastal greenbelts
“Until our people, seeing, are become/ Like the molave, firm, resilient, staunch…/ Strong in its own fibre, yes, like the molave!”
It is a pleasant surprise to read Rafael de Zulueta’s famous 1940 poem “Like the Molave” in a scientific handbook on the Philippines’ coastal greenbelt, even if the first line—“Not yet, Rizal, not yet”—is all I can remember now of the stanza we had to memorize in school. More on the molave later.
When we think trees we usually think of forests, mountains and valleys. And the winged creatures and other wildlife that thrive on their branches that reach out to the skies. We seldom associate trees with beaches, coastlines and river banks.
But trees are in fact important to the marine ecosystem. They are not for the birds alone but for the fishes, too, that thrive, not on their branches, but in their shade and intricate root system that serve as haven and womb to sea creatures. Even those that do not grow in watery habitats where sea life spawns have a role to play.
And so it is gratifying to know that our marine scientists are focusing on the Philippines’ endangered mangrove associates and other beach forest species. Dr. Jurgenne Honculada Primavera and Dr. Resurreccion “Rex” B. Sabada have just come out with the book “Beach Forest Species and Mangrove Associates in the Philippines.” The book should be a delight to read not only for ecologists but also for beachcombers and even resort and fishpond owners, and you and me. This book is a sequel to “Handbook of Mangroves in the Philippines-Panay” (2004).
Not only is this sequel colorfully designed, it also contains much information on the foliage and their flowers and fruits that thrive on the beaches of our archipelago. It also serves as an urgent warning.
Dr. Joebert D. Toledo, chief of the Iloilo-based Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (Seafdec), says in his foreword: “Mangroves are important in maintaining the sustainability of coastal fisheries. Aside from being the nursing and feeding grounds of an array of marine species, the contributions of mangroves to the coastal environment and the subsistence livelihood of communities are indispensable. Regrettably, the expansion and intensification of shrimp farming since the 1980s came at their expense. The results were devastating—acidic soils, viral diseases, coastal erosion, and loss of livelihood, among others.”
Writes Dr. Hubert Gijzen of Unesco-Jakarta: “This handbook will make an immense contribution to the rehabilitation, conservation and sustainable use of beach forests and mangrove associates not only in the Philippines but also in other countries in the region.” Local government officials, students, teachers and members of nongovernment organizations would find it useful, he adds.
The book—supported by Unesco, Seafdec, Man and Biosphere Programme and Japan Fund-in-Trust—features 97 beach forest species and mangrove associates plus 43 other collected species. The 97 are each given a page with several color photos and descriptions of the species and their habitats, leaves, flowers and fruits. The species’ English and local names as well as their uses—medicinal, structural, ornamental, etc.—are listed. It goes without saying that among their important uses is to be part of a balanced “coastal greenbelt.” The authors describe a “beach forest [as] a mixed association of littoral creepers, shrubs and trees above the high tide level. That is, the supratidal species that form an impenetrable thicket in pristine forests referred to as ‘beach jungle’ by early explorers.”
In their intro the authors give a historical perspective: “Our ancestors established settlements located along the shoreline and riverbanks out of necessity. Such places adjoining waterways were the most accessible by boat, then the major interisland mode of transport. (We therefore have the central Luzon Tagalog or taga-ilog, meaning people of the river, and the Sulu Tausug or taong suug, or people of the current.)
“Not surprisingly, vegetation in coastal forests was the first to disappear, followed by mangroves and other forest types. Due to their early loss, beach forests are not as well studied as other flora and therefore not familiar to the average Filipino. They have long gone unreported in the yearly ’Philippine Forestry Statistics.’”
A glossary is provided at the end of the book.
Primavera and Sabada bring up the 2005 Indian Ocean tsunami and sea level rise associated with global warming and stress the role of beach forest-mangrove greenbelts in providing protection for coastal communities. They point to the great potential for industry and tolerance to sea spray, strong sunlight and dry conditions, making them ideal for reforestation use and climate change adaptation.
They hope the book will stimulate research on the species’ uses for medicine, biotechnology and silviculture, and for the protection and restoration of coastal greenbelts.
When you see those creepers and thorny aroma trees on beaches, think of them as protective shields.
And speaking of the molave, I learned only now that it is a mangrove associate. My heavy dining table for five is made of two-inch-thick solid molave (old, salvaged wood) which is uneven at the sides. It was done by furniture sculptor Joel Ajero 15 years ago. For its props and legs, Ajero turned heavy iron into tree branches and leaves painted in faux verdigris. He filled a hollowed corner with a big leaf and twirls. (Will post a photo of it in my blog.)
An altar, indeed, it is. An ode to the molave.
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