It was a dark and cold dawn as the sun was still asleep when I woke up, getting ready for a long day ahead of me. That day, we’re set to have a trip to Subic. Something I’ve never done before since I’m not from Luzon and I have never been able to explore the places in Luzon. I have always been in Visayas all my life. That’s where I was born and grew up.
The trip wasn’t something I planned together with my family or even with my friends. We we’re required by our Biology teacher to come. However, I would still come even though we weren’t required. The line-up of activity was organized by BOx, the premiere biology organization in the Ateneo, which I am part of. I was too eager to take part on the mangrove reforestation. “Mangrove reforestation is one of the activities organized by BOx in response to the worsening destruction of mangrove forests around the country. The goal is to empower the members by helping in the reforestation efforts to promote species diversity in mangrove forests”, according to my key informant and Executive Vice-President of BOx, Mr. Dustin Cruz.
I, together with my other classmates, orgmates and some teachers headed for Subic. It was a long ride, but I never really bothered looking at my watch to check the time. I have always enjoyed traveling ever since I was young. I love the scene of the buildings and trees that blurs as the vehicle I’m riding on pass by these. With a prepared playlist on my phone and a bottle of water, I was in it for a ride.
I was sitting beside the window so I can see the magnificent landscape—both natural and man-made—that the bus passed by. The buildings of varying heights, shapes and colors filled the view of Metro Manila, manifesting the hassles of the city life. As we headed farther away from Metro Manila, I was able to observe more of the sites of a life in the province, much similar to the environment that I grew up back in Bohol, my home town—filled with trees and green vast lands. It smelled like home. Ashes and lahar covered some of the waterways like rivers and streams along the way to Subic, a mark of the historic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991.
In the middle of my joyride came the unexpected news. During our stopover, it was announced to us that the local government unit of Olongapo backed out from helping the organization in the said event. Good thing, the organizers were able to think of a back-up plan—to go to Treetop Adventure Park to plant Mangrove trees. Although there was a downside, we had to pay a little amount to experience planting mangroves. It didn’t seem to bother me at all simply because that was what I was up for.
Fast-forward, we arrived at the Treetop Adventure Park located in Subic Bay in the province of Zambales. Zambales is a province north of Metro Manila. Subic Bay is one of its popular destinations for tourists due to its white sand beaches. It was a former home to one of the largest US naval bases outside US and it’s because of this that Subic has become developed.
The Treetop Adventure Park looked very small, judging its wooden post entrance, wooden gate and a little nipa hut. We entered the premises in shorts and t-shirts of various designs. Some were even wearing sleeveless, anticipating the beach thereafter. As we walked towards the shore, I can already feel the cold breeze winding the tall bamboo trees that grew along the path, and smell the sea. I can hear the crunching of the sands beneath my feet and feel it filling up my slippers. We stopped a few meters from the shore to get a little bit of briefing and orientation. The sun was at its peak, scorching hot indeed. I can feel my sweat dripping at my back.
After some time, we were told to pick a mangrove seedling and I chose the tall one with two leaves on its stem. I carried it towards the shore and it was a little heavy due to it brown clay soil. It was placed inside a black plastic pot, similar to a black plastic bag for trash, but little thicker. As I held the pot, I can feel the soil molding, taking the shape of my fingers. I massaged the soft clay soil gently with a little push all around it in preparation for its planting.
We came to the shore and I saw the fine white sand similar to that of the beach. In the part where the mangroves where planted, the water was little dark of tint and the sand came to be the same. It was a little grayish. Little bamboo poles were used to mark the point where one can plant the mangroves. I walked towards the bamboo poles slowly, in an attempt to keep my shorts dry since the waters was knee-deep. I chose a spot and started digging. Since the water was not that clear, I had to dig just like how a blind one would. I used my hands to feel the grayish sandy soil and dug. I used my hand to feel if it was deep enough. When it already was, I placed the mangrove on the spot and covered its roots with some sandy soil. Once it was intact, I tied it to the bamboo poles to keep it standing and makes sure remains as it is or else it will not grow.
I can hear the people smile and saying ‘cheese’, trying to document this memorable activity—that was Mangrove reforestation.
The activity in itself, especially the act of planting of mangrove is one of the simplest things we all can do. As Ateneans, or not even that, even as humans, we ought to take care of our environment especially the marine ecosystem. By planting a mangrove, we can create homes to marine organisms. It’s never really to late to go green. It’s in the simple things that we nurture and protect our lives, our communities and our nation.
1. What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
I’ve always seen how people plant mangroves on television and posters and I have always wanted to try it myself. It’s not as if I haven’t planted any plant all my life, but I guess it was different when you plant in the sea and when you’re the one planting the mangroves in the sea.
Before I planted the mangrove, there were several students who planted before me. I was watching them and I told myself, this going to be a piece of cake. However, when I planted myself it was not that easy—though it was still easy (just a very little degree of difficulty). The seawater was not really clear so we had to dig literally like how a blind person would. I had to use my hand to feel the sandy soil beneath me to know if it was deep enough. When it already was, I placed the mangrove and placed some soil to cover its roots.
If I was only observing them, I wouldn’t realize the additional effort that it took to plant that mangrove. After all, it was different when I did it yourself.
2. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
Having a key informant allowed me to understand the context of the activity, the reason why they had to come all the way to Subic just to plant mangroves and why the organization had to organize something like this. The key informant also gave some facts about the project like how long was the organization doing it and who initiated it. He was also able to answer some of my nitty-gritty questions, which helped me understand the activity.
3. What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
Questionaire and interviews are very objective in itself. It can give you facts and details but it will never allow a person to experience the activity in itself. One may describe the activity all he wants but he will never truly make it real for the person he is describing it to. It’s only with experience that all the sights, sounds, smell and all these other senses becomes real. It is when you have the experience that you begin to analyze and reflect the activity that you have just experienced
As in my case, planting a mangrove is one of the easiest things in the world. Yes, it is very easy. But what puzzled me was how come only very few are doing it, despite all the benefits that it can give us.
4. For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
Questionnaires are only very good at extracting facts from many people. If you want straight facts answers or maybe a survey regarding a certain topic then questionnaires will do the job. However, if one wants to dig deeper behind the mere facts, the yes or no, or whatever factual or opinionated information from specific people, one has to do an interview. The interview is specialized to cater to deeper thoughts and analysis from the viewpoint of other people.
The limitation of participant observation is that it leaves the observant alone to think about all the things that just happened in an event. He may be able to observe the activity and maybe understand it a little more, but he can’t read through the minds of many people. One can’t obviously know the opinions and the thoughts of other people just by looking at them or even participating in what they do.
by Ralf Martz Sulague SA 21 – Y
Word Count: 991