Mapping seagrass in the Philippines
PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines – At 8 in the evening, a handful of locals would go to Puraran Beach in Catanduanes. Each carried a net, a hook and line, or a spear, and a small pail. Their headlamp – or flashlight, for the others – lighted their way as they stepped on shallow water.
As they moved farther, they became a glowing ball of light in the dark.
Locals call them "mangingilaw." They are seafood hunters who look for edible vertebrates at night during low tide, when they could see their catch through the seagrass meadows.
Their seafood finds serve as their food the next day.
According to Onyong Pamplona, a tour guide who used to be a mangingilaw, they do it day and night.
"From September to March, the tide falls at night. Otherwise, we do it in the morning," he said.
"Our seafood catch are different for day and night," he added.
This reliance on seagrass-dependent organisms in this coastal community in Catanduanes is also true in neighboring villages.
A tour guide at Binurong Point, which is famous among tourists for its span of green hills and wave-watching spots, said they also do it.
This also seemed true in other parts of the country. For instance, a community in Matnog in Sorsogon use "bobo" (trap with food bait) to catch small crabs. They live near a mangrove forest planted on seagrass beds.
In Guimaras, where there's an ongoing research on seagrass, 8 out of the 10 fishes consumed by households are seagrass-associated.
The status of seagrass in the Philippines remains widely unknown, although their importance both for food security and mitigating the impact of climate change have been acknowledged.
Seagrasses are 35 times more effective in "capturing and holding" blue carbon (or carbon captured by oceans and coastal ecosystems) than terrestrial forests and can keep it below ground for a millennia, according to a 2011 study. That's why seagrass and other wetlands like mangrove forests and salt marshes are effective carbon sinks.
A 2017 report of the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA) recommended that blue carbon be included in the national reporting of greenhouse gas emissions and sinks.
But first, seagrass in the Philippines have to be mapped.
Seagrass sightings photo competition
Project Seagrass, a global nongovernmental organization that advances seagrass conservation through research, education, and action, is holding a photo competition for the best seagrass and seagrass-related sightings from July until August this year.
According to Mary Rose Lopez who heads the Guimaras research for Seagrass Project-Philippines, reporting seagrass sightings helps track seagrass locations for proper monitoring and maintenance; raises awareness of its status; and can be used to develop healthy seagrass meadows and to promote sustainable fishing economy, as more people become aware of its importance.
To join, download the Seagrass Spotter app and capture real time sightings. Or go to seagrassspotter.org and upload photos, retrospectively. Either way, you'll be asked about its location and date of sighting.
It will also will help you identify the kind of seagrass species you've found, as a set of multiple choice questions (accompanied with images) will pop up on the screen.
There is also an option to provide further details, such as the name of vertebrates seen in the meadows, how you observed the seagrass, how extensive it was, whether there were boats anchored in it, or if there’s anything damaging the seagrass, among others.
Importance of field observation
In the Philippines, a program called IAMBlueCECAM aims to assess, model, simulate, and analyze existing blue carbon ecosystems through remote sensing, GIS, geosimulation and geovisualization to provide enough data for the management of these ecosystems.
Co-funded by the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the program will assess select Philippine sites for seagrass and mangroves.
However, a PEMSEA report emphasized that remote sensing techniques commonly used for mapping terrestrial and wetland habitats generally do not work for seagrasses because they are underwater. This is why "most seagrass surveys are conducted through field observation, often using scuba diving and manual delineation with GPS units," the report said.
With a citizen science app like Seagrass Spotter, you too can get involved in filling this critical data gap for coastal habitat conservation. – Rappler.com