When Diovanie de Jesus, a biologist and bird lover, visited one of the last mangrove forests in Manila Bay in the Philippines, he found it covered in plastic and other bits of garbage, from plastic bags to surgical masks to bottles. Images shared online, showing the mangrove forest covered in plastic, demonstrate how bad the situation is in Manila Bay in the Philippines.
The mangrove forest is an ecosystem common to the tropical and subtropical coastal areas. Mangroves have long, distinctive roots, adapted to swamps. Forests, which hug the coasts, play an important role in protecting inland areas from intense weather events, including high waves, strong currents, and even typhoons. Mangroves are also important breeding sites for many different animals.
‘People feel that Manila Bay is already dead’
Biologist Diovanie De Jesus was looking for birds when he went to the mangrove swamp on Tanza Island, near the town of Novatas, on September 25, 2021. Although it was high season for migratory birds, that is not what De Jesus found there. He posted some photos of all the garbage he found on social media.
I went to the island to photograph birds. But when I saw all the plastic, I was devastated. The sight of birds trying to feed among all the debris broke my heart.
Most of the site was covered in garbage. It is an estuary, so the garbage is washed away by the rivers and the swamp and then it gets trapped in the roots of the mangrove swamp.
This photo, sent to our team by De Jesus, shows a migratory bird near the mangroves. © Diovanie De Jesus This image shows De Jesus taking pictures of the trash. © Diovanie De Jesus
Diovanie De Jesus is a scientist specializing in the study of the ocean. He works for the Philippine branch of the NGO Oceana, which works to protect marine life.
Even though De Jesus was aware of the environmental situation in the region, he was still surprised to see the state of the site. Especially since, just a week before their visit, a large group of volunteers had carried out a clean-up operation in Manila Bay to mark International Coastal Cleanup Day, which is celebrated every year on September 18.
Many people who live in the city of Manila do not know that there are mangrove forests so close to the city. I also took these photos to raise awareness, so they realize that they are still there. They feel that Manila Bay is already dead.
This video shows a group of bird watchers in the Tanza mangrove. You can see the floor full of plastic debris. © Diovanie De Jesus ‘Plastic can suffocate mangroves because it prevents their roots from absorbing CO2’
The Philippines is one of the biggest polluters of the world’s oceans. The situation is particularly bad in the bay around Manila, the capital of the archipelago, according to our Observer:
This plastic can suffocate mangroves, preventing the roots from absorbing CO2 and thus killing them. Plastic also affects wildlife, which lose their habitat or could end up ingesting this plastic. Not to mention all the risks plastic presents to human and environmental health.
The mangrove swamp, which ingests a lot of CO2, acts as the lungs of the planet. Its progressive disappearance is, therefore, a matter of global importance at the international level. The situation is particularly worrying in the Philippines, which has lost 50 percent of its mangroves. It’s even worse along the extremely urban coastline of the city of Manila, where 99 percent of the mangroves have been destroyed.
This image shows some mangroves growing along the coast. De Jesus posted it on his Instagram account. © Diovani De Jesus (Instagram)
The government has invested money in repairing the Manila Bay. The authorities, including President Rodrigo Duterte himself, have highlighted the rehabilitation of Dolomitas Beach, located in the center of Manila. The beach was cleaned and covered with new sand as part of this project, which cost an estimated 389 million pesos (or 6.6 million euros). However, environmental activists have been critical of the project, claiming that the government is only targeting a small, highly visible part of the bay and therefore only touches the tip of the iceberg:
U.S [environmental activists] they are saddened by the way they have chosen to invest their resources.
They worked hard to make a tiny, but highly visible part of Manila Bay, very clean and very beautiful. But that beach only stretches for a kilometer along a coastline that stretches for 200 kilometers. The rest of the coast looks more like what you see in my photos.
Protecting the last mangroves
Local organizations are trying to work together to protect mangroves, which are also threatened by both urbanization and agriculture. A group called Mangrove Matters, which is made up of young biology students, planted 1,500 trees in Silay City, located on Negros Island. The group’s spokesman says the government should play an active role in “conserving the mangroves that remain in the country,” rather than granting authorizations to coastal developers so they can destroy these precious forests.
Currently, coastal construction projects are destroying the last mangroves in Manila Bay. The forest photographed by De Jesus will likely soon be replaced by apartment buildings as well. Two different construction projects are being developed for that area. De Jesús concluded:
Mangroves protect the coast. If you stop protecting the mangroves, the water will rise. When I was there, they had already removed some of them and you could see that certain areas were flooded. Destroying mangroves is the opposite of sustainable development.