Government, conservationists find ways to save plants, animals on Mayon

Every year, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources conducts reforestation projects covering 500 hectares of the protected area, but these were suspended due to the activity of the volcano.

Ma. April Mier-Manjares

Ma. April Mier-Manjares

Philippine Daily Inquirer


The Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office in Albay propagates plant species endemic to Mt. Mayon in their clonal facility in Barangay Sagpon in Legazpi City. PHOTO: PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER

October 2, 2023

DARAGA, ALBAY –  Most of the families from the village of Budiao in this town had already been evacuated to Barangay Anislag, some 16 kilometers away from the restive Mt. Mayon, but others chose to stay to sustain their livelihood—from farming and quarrying along the volcano’s slopes.

Resident Elsie Manoriña, 55, said Mayon’s lava flow and the rockfall events, usually seen clearly at night, also made them anxious but they were still taking the risk of tending the family farm and harvesting their crops along the danger zones.

The more than three months of continuous lava flow and volcanic debris left shrubs and grasses burned from the southeastern portion of the volcano, facing Legazpi City and Sto. Domingo town in Albay province.

“Every eruption, the shrubs and grasses near the lava flow usually dry up, an indication that these are affected by the extreme heat of the volcanic materials,” Edgar Balidoy, head of the municipal disaster risk reduction and management office in Sto. Domingo, said in a telephone interview on Sept. 15.

Given the characteristics of soil near the crater, an elevated area, only shrubs and grasses would usually thrive, especially in places where the lava flow and volcanic materials had been deposited.

Joel Perillo, the protected area superintendent of Mt. Mayon Natural Park (MMNP), said most of the plant species within the 3-km radius of the crater would turn brownish, an indication that these were burned by the volcanic materials along the gullies.

But once the eruption subsided, the area would recover and turn green again as grass has a strong survival rate.

“Grass is considered a pioneer flora species in the ecological succession as they thrive in clear areas and the survival rate is strong because its roots would regrow if not totally disturbed,” Perillo said.

The stretch of lava flow in the Bonga gully in Legazpi City has advanced to 3.4 km, 2.8 km in Mi-isi gully in Daraga and 1.1 km in Basud gully in Sto. Domingo.

The effusive eruption (characterized by outpouring of lava onto the ground) since June directly affects the flora and fauna near the gullies, but if an explosive eruption happens, it could destroy most of the protected area.

Based on the study and history of Mayon’s eruption, the pyroclastic density currents (PDC or mixtures of fragmented volcanic particles, hot gases and ash that rush down the volcano’s slopes) could reach up to 6 km from the crater of the volcano, while the lava flow could be more concentrated in its gullies.

“Once PDCs touch humans or trees, it could kill them, and the lava could trigger fire,” Paul Karson Alanis, resident volcanologist of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) in Albay, said in a telephone interview on Sept. 13.

PDCs are more dangerous as they move faster than a car can drive, he said.

Since July, the lava flow has triggered fires in the Mi-isi and Bonga gullies.

One of Mayon’s most destructive eruptions was on Feb. 1, 1814. Described by Phivolcs as “vulcanian,” it claimed 1,200 lives and damaged the church of Cagsawa in Daraga, now named Cagsawa Ruins, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Bicol region.

This year, at least 5,813 families (20,331 people) had evacuated in seven towns and cities in the province after Phivolcs raised alert level 3 (high level of volcanic unrest) on June 8.

Conservation efforts

Every year, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) conducts reforestation projects covering 500 hectares of the protected area, but these were suspended due to the activity of the volcano.

The MMNP, Perillo said, is one of their priority areas as volcanic eruptions sometimes cause massive destruction to plant species.

Every month, the clonal facility in Barangay Sagpon in Legazpi City managed by the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (Penro) in Albay, propagates species endemic to Mt. Mayon and surrounding areas through cuttings—one of their main sources for their reforestation projects.

“We prioritize the cloning of endemic species because its survival rate is high and it grows harmoniously with the ecosystem and biodiversity,” Perillo said.

Jhunie Ching Ticatic, a staff in the facility, said in each cutting process, they produce around 4,000 seedlings from various mother trees and endemic plants inside the 1-ha urban garden.

“It is really important to propagate seedlings to replace the trees, especially the endangered ones. We also give seedlings to organizations with tree-planting projects,” Ticatic said.

A massive volcanic eruption would possibly injure or kill wild animals, but the restrictions inside the danger zones would not warrant rescue operations for them.

Dr. Pancho Mella, Albay provincial veterinarian, said if an injured animal was discovered beyond the danger zone, the Penro would first assess its condition and turn it over to the Albay Parks and Wildlife, one of the temporary holding facilities for wild animals that needed intervention.

“If the animal is really weak and injured, we can accommodate them at our facility. But those who can still recover on their own and are healthy, should be released,” Mella said.

Once animals have recovered, they can be released back to their natural habitat identified by the DENR.

In 2022, the DENR authorized the Aguas Farm in Sto. Domingo town through a wildlife loan agreement to ensure wildlife care and serve as one of the shelters for rescued animals in the Bicol region.

Its owner, Herbie Aguas, the former mayor of Sto. Domingo and now director of the Department of Tourism in Bicol, said the farm houses two rescued herons, a Philippine hawk, a monkey and other animals. It is open to the public for tourism and educational tours.

All of the animals on the farm were documented by the DENR and may still be released to their habitat, especially those who cannot survive while in captivity. INQ

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