Baler, Aurora. The Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB), through the Coastal Zone and Freshwater Ecosystems Research Division (CZFERD) and the Forest Ecosystems Research Division (FERD), conducted technical assistance on the Vulnerability Assessment of Watersheds in CENRO Dingalan, Aurora from August 24 to 26, 2021.
Aside from having one of the more commonly known surfing sites among tourists in the country, the province of Aurora prides itself on having a wide forest cover, healthy watersheds, rich biodiversity, and endemic forest tree species. As per the 2019 Philippine Forestry Statistics, Aurora province has a total forest cover of 220,295 hectares. With the Sierra Madre mountain range traversing from north to south of Aurora, it has several protected landscapes such as Aurora Memorial National Park and Amro River Protected Landscape. It also consists of proclaimed watershed forest reserves like the Dibalo-Pingit-Zabali-Malayat River Watershed Forest Reserve and Dipaculao Watershed Forest Reserve. The province is without a doubt abundant in natural resources. Steps to protect and conserve these riches must be taken, especially now that the impacts of climate change are not just evident, but “widespread, rapid, and intensifying” according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
As part of its function to implement DENR programs and the enforcement of ENR laws at the community level, the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) in Dingalan, Aurora was tasked to assess the vulnerability of its watersheds. Specifically, the Conservation and Development Section (CDS), headed by Forester Grace Dela Cruz, and the Geographic Information System (GIS) unit led by Forester Protacio “Dhoy” Famenia III, are working on the Integrated Watershed Management Plan (IWMP) of the San Luis Watershed in Aurora.
CENRO-Dingalan was thankful that ERDB took time to provide the much-needed technical assistance in watershed vulnerability assessment. “Sa totoo lang, ‘yung kapasidad ng CENRO [Dingalan] ay hindi ganun na kayang magconduct ng coastal vulnerability assessment”, said Forester Dhoy during an interview. “We’re thankful na pinaunlakan ninyo ‘yung aming request na matulungan kami. Kahit na ganitong pandemic ay dumating pa din kayo at hindi kayo nag-atubili”, he added.
With a multidisciplinary team of ERDB researchers convened and given instructions by ERDB Director, Dr. Henry A. Adornado, the said assessment was initiated through a mixed virtual and face-to-face approach.
Forester Karen Rae Fortus, Science Research Specialist II of ERDB-FERD provided basic information on vulnerability assessment of watersheds. She shared a background on how this tool was developed. “Inumpisahan ng ERDB ang pagdevelop nito noong 2008 at na-implement sa buong bansa ng DENR research sectors”, she said.
It was only in 2018 that ERDB started rolling out the Vulnerability Assessment technology to DENR regional offices in preparation for their respective Integrated Watershed Management Plans.
Through online conferencing, team leader Ms. Annieraj Antong-Velasco, Science Research Specialist I of ERDB-CZFERD, expounded on the two vulnerabilities of the coastal area within a watershed to the impacts of climate change – storm surge and coastal erosion. “Aside from that, we also need to identify the factors affecting these susceptibilities so that we’ll be able to develop strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change”, she highlighted during her lecture before explaining the methodologies involved in assessing vulnerabilities in the coastlines.
Aware of the fact that natural calamities cannot be avoided but their impact may be circumvented through scientific research and proper planning, Forester Dhoy together with the Chief of Planning and Support Unit Forester Greg Dela Cruz, Jr. closely paid attention during the hands-on demonstration and mentoring on map generation. It was facilitated by GIS Specialists of ERDB Forester Jenilyn Regondola and Forester Lyndley De Torres.
When the ERDB research team and the participants conducted beach profiling and assessment of the coastal area, erosion of the sand was apparent. “Ako matagal na dito. Itong dagat na’to ay dati-rati ay malayo pa. Kulang-kulang isang kilometro ay buhanginan pa.”, one of the residents exclaimed while pointing far towards the Philippine Sea. “Noong huling bagyo, bagyong Ulysses, umabot na sa kalsada ang tubig”, shared by the attendant of one of the resorts in the area. Such changes in sea level, as predicted by the IPCC, might occur more frequently than it used to.
“Kaya itong vulnerability assessment ay napakaganda para mapaghandaan ng gobyerno at makapagbigay ng mga alternatibong mga pamamaraan para masagot ano ba ‘yung pwede natin gawin? ano ba yung magandang plano?”, For. Dhoy expressed with gratitude after the three-day training. CENRO Marivic E. Santos and CDS Chief For. Grace dela Cruz were also grateful to ERDB for providing assistance.
ERDB continues to share its expertise on various generated technologies such as the vulnerability assessment of watersheds to other DENR bureaus, regional offices, and attached agencies.
Necessary travel requirements and safety precautions were followed during the conduct of this training. Jonah Nuisa DT. Garcia