Land Reclamation and Restoration

Reader Contribution by Ruth Tandaan Sto Domingo
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The technology currently exists to make it feasible to “reclaim” or “restore” everything from deserts to salt marshes to oceans. Generally, such efforts are utilized ostensibly at least, for the purpose of future growth and development, primarily of larger cities. Occasionally, these efforts are undertaken in the name of restoration where depleted forests and other natural resources have been depleted and humanity is at least putting forth some effort to restore that which has been lost. Whatever the reason may be however, just because something can be done, does not always mean that something should be done. There may be times and occasions when it is best to allow nature to take its natural course.

It should be noted that this article is not meant to cast any disparaging views on continuing efforts at reforestation and restoring the soil that are constantly ongoing around the world today. Rather, this article looks at the formations of islands such as the one where the Tokyo Airport is housed, or even Manhattan … just to give a couple of older examples.

For those that are familiar with the Philippines, it is interesting to note that the entirety of Metro Manila used to encompass nothing more than the area currently known as Intramuros. The rest of the land was “reclaimed” at the expense of swampy and marshy wetlands. In fact the name itself, “Manila” or “Maynila” is derived from the ancient Maynil tree or Mangroves. The vast majority of what is now Metro Manila was at one time, largely comprised of Mangrove Swamps, virtually all of which have been destroyed in an effort to create more land for cities and unsustainable growth and development. Despite this, further efforts are currently underway to “reclaim” even more of Manila Bay and to turn it into yet more flood prone and densely packed concrete jungles.

To some extent, virtually all of these reclamation projects can be justified from a strictly developmental standpoint, but there are two questions that the responsible parties seem unable to answer. One; Just because we can reclaim all of these lands, does that mean that we should? And two; Are there any other viable alternatives that would not be nearly as detrimental to the environment? In the case of the former, the argument of the author would be “No, not necessarily.” In the case of the latter, the answer would be a most emphatic “YES! There are a great many alternatives that have not been considered.”

This seems to hold especially true in Manila, most notably because of the presence of the northernmost portion of the Coral Triangle in the Verde Island Passage just South of Manila Bay. Even with proper containment during the reclamation project, it is seemingly inevitable that waste and debris will flow into the Coral Triangle, potentially endangering one of (if not THE) most biologically diverse areas of oceanic waters and coral reef based ecosystems in the world. If that alone is not cause enough to at least consider viable options, perhaps nothing ever will prove to be sufficient cause. Still, there are a great many options.

Regardless of the sensitive nature of the environments and ecosystems actively endangered by such actions, there remain a great many alternatives that have not been fully considered. Given the importance of Manila in this particular case, the presence of water and air transport and logistics are pretty much a given. It is imperative that global trade be maintained … though there is certainly no doubt that we need to come up with better and more sustainable means of transport.

Virtually the entire area around San Miguel Bay would be ideally suited to serve as an Eastern front of sorts, and to support the ongoing efforts to expand the growth and development of the Philippines in a more sustainable fashion. There are of course other options, though not so many on the island of Luzon. Still, the options do exist and should be seriously considered before such potentially destructive developments are put into play.

Now all of this ranting should not be confused to call for an end to either land reclamation or restoration, but rather careful consideration before such actions are undertaken, and perhaps a more limited application of these practices. What roles did the mangrove swamps play in the local environment? What role do the deserts of the world play in regards to the global environment? The author is one of those funny people who believe that every aspect of the global environment has a function and serves a purpose, regardless of whether or not humanity may understand that reason.

Do the deserts perhaps work as heat sinks of a sort, allowing for the creation of currents when these super heated atmospheric conditions are met by cooler areas from outside the desert? If the earth and the surrounding atmosphere were a thin-skinned grapefruit, the collective scientific and environmental knowledge of humanity would not encompass a full understanding of the peel. Again though, this is not to say that such matters of reclamation and restoration do not serve a purpose.

Among the most pressing needs for restoration, include global efforts at reforestation that should not only continue, but be picked up and moved into much quicker than they currently are at present. It should be noted though, that just going out and planting trees is not nearly enough. The reason that the author is such a strong proponent for the large scale food forests, is that these are wholly natural, environmentally sustainable ecosystems.

There are vast swathes of earth that have been destroyed through the use of modern agricultural methods, urbanization and other efforts that have undermined the ability of the earth to adequately regenerate and restore itself. However, planting trees alone will not work to replenish the natural resources that have been lost. Anything less than a complete restoration of natural and sustainable ecosystems will not be sufficient to undue the damage. As such, what better means is there to restore the natural environment with complete, man-made, wholly natural systems that also add to a more complete symbiotic relationship between people and the environment?

As always, please leave any of your thoughts, comments, questions and suggestions in the comment section below so that they can be addressed individually, and perhaps even used for consideration in future articles. None of this work would be possible without you, the reader, and as such, your thoughts and considerations are the most important aspect of any articles published herein.

Ruth Tandaan Sto Domingo, Whole-System Sustainable Development Expert. Ruth has worked with numerous NGOs, governments and Indigenous communities in Guinea, Cameroon, Nigeria, Panama, Costa Rica, Brazil, Australia, the Philippines and Vanuatu to implement sustainable solutions. She is the co-author ofWhole System Sustainable Development. Ruth enjoys “hyper-realistic” cross stitch and is working with her husband to build a largely off-grid and self-sufficient home where she will raise livestock and garden both flowers and food. Connect with Ruth onFacebook.

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