Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Precarious Landscapes of El Nido

I have free time right now. I will blog about how wonderful I found El Nido town in our March trip. We knew that the route to El Nido would entail a 5 hour trip from Puerto Princesa yet we still braved the very long and back breaking ride. After all, the raves about limestone islands were all superlatives like ' pictures could never give justice to the view' and ' as if you left the Philippines'. I had to see it with my own eyes.

Once there, El Nido did not disappoint us. The sceneries were all breathtaking. Personally I was thinking the limestone mountains were just missing pagodas or temples to resemble a Chinese landscape painting. The karst limestone formations are very distinct in shape and pattern. The sharp ridges and slopes look so dangerous and precarious. There were even big loose rocks sitting and balancing atop other large outcrops.

I learned about karst limestone formations when I was in graduate school. A lot of coastal areas in the Philippines are mostly karst, formed out of unpredictable limestone geography. The ridges and cliffs are the harder material with the softer areas eroded away by water. Sometimes in between the limestone geology, spaces and voids are created. That is why caves and caverns are common in limestone formations. In these caves, the swifts and swallows dwell and make their nests, which what made El Nido famous for. The Chinese prehistorically traded with the town for the swift nests to make the famed nido soup.

Another note on karst geography, top soil is limited because most of the rock foundation is impenetrable limestone. Thus it is harder for trees to anchor themselves in limestone rock and the finite soil cover. There are lesser trees and plants adapted to karst limestone growth, particularly only the ones with roots which could get in the nooks and crannies of limestone rocks. Molave is one species adapted to such conditions, thus it is is common to see molave forests in coastal areas , rather than the forest dipterocarps (which have roots that grow straight and have to bore deep into the soil). Yet there are still some dipterocarps in the El Nido landscapes meaning it took them very long to anchor onto the limestone and establish themselves there.

The fragile thing about El Nido is that if these forests are to be continuously ransacked for the dipterocarp lumber, it would be harder to reforest with dipterocarp species. I made a courtesy call on the local DENR office and learned from their forester that there are only about less than 50 percent original forest cover in the area. I do not know anything about the significance of statistics but what I heard is very alarming, just knowing that El Nido and the majority of Palawan geology is karst. What maybe a few minutes to cut and harvest will take decades and maybe centuries to bring back to its original state. And another thing is that the DENR nursery in Puerto Princesa is stocked with mostly exotics like gmelina, mahogany and auris. I am not sure what species they are growing in other town nurseries. It might not be long when the rest of the Palawan forest will be overran by introduced species, to the detriment of its well publicized biodiversity.

When I visited the El Nido DENR office, I saw this beautiful Arenga palm by the office entrance. I was told it is an indigenous Palawan species. I saw this Arenga for the first time. This is one of the spectacular species in peril of being lost before becoming known to most Pinoys. We can only hope that this species never becomes a victim in the struggle for survival in Palawan forests.


Plant Chaser said...

Patrick, I forgot to ask, how did the meeting for the conservation society go?

metscaper said...

Quite okay. The society got to renew ties with its old members and recruit new ones as well. You should join the next meeting on June 4.

George said...

Patrick, that's Arenga undulatifolia.

metscaper said...

Sir, cultivated na po ba? Could I get seedlings here in manila?