Depleting seagrass worries seashell gatherers in Albay

BACACAY, Albay --- Seagrasses gracefully dance with the sea current, serving as nesting ground and habitat of various marine species to create a natural sea garden along the coastline of this coastal town. In Barangay Buang, Bacacay, however, villagers who rely on the sea for a living expressed sadness over the declining vastness of the seagrass. They said that from the 1960s up to the ‘80s, their coastlines, which face the Pacific Ocean, were once abundant with seagrasses, so-named because most species have long, green, grass-like leaves. “Over time, there has been a decline in the seagrasses, which are home to the seashells,” said Marcy Burac, 53, a resident of Buang who collects seashells along the coasts as a source of livelihood. Fishermen here also noted the decline in the marine species from the 90s up to the present. On a particular day, Marcy, along with her 10-year-old son Jeric, a Grade 4 pupil, rushes to the seashore as soon as the sea water recedes during low tide to collect the seashells. Mother and son, with their “eco-bags” and bolos then scoop the seashells beneath the seagrass beds. Locally known here as “bariw-bariw,” the seashells are exposed during low tide, which stays up to two to three hours. During this time Marcy and son start to collect the seashells which they sell at P60 per one medium-sized eco bag. They fill up the eco bag with a variety of seashells. According to Marcy, “sarad” and “kudkud” are the other types of seashells that villagers could find beneath the seagrass bed. Experts attribute the depletion of seagrasses to the warming of sea temperatures brought by climate change. They said rising sea temperatures produce bigger waves from the ocean which in turn pound the seagrasses along the shallow coastlines. Marcy said big waves particularly hit the coastlines of Buang in the months from February to July. Restoring the conditions in the ocean so that seagrasses could thrive as they did in the past is a concern of everybody, as exhibits mounted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Bicol tried to show. The agency, which observed Environment Month in June has been spearheading various activities, among them the holding of a “biodiversity challenge” to spread awareness on environmental consciousness among communities, especially those living along the coastlines. Environmentalists said restoring the seagrass beds is important because next to estuaries and wetlands, seagrasses are the third most valuable ecosystem in the world. Known as the “lungs of the sea,” the seagrasses support commercial fisheries and biodiversity, clean the surrounding water and help take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. According to scientists, one square meter of seagrass can generate 10 liters of oxygen every day through photosynthesis. PNA