6 phytoremediation tree species identified by ERDB for Palawan mercury mine’s rehab

November 30, 2020

By Melody Mendoza Aguiba

Six forest tree species have been identified by the Ecosystem Research and Development Bureau (ERDB) as “phytoremediation” tool to rehabilitate the mercury-polluted Palawan Quicksilver Mines (PQM) as part of an aim to transform it into an ecotourism site.

   The tree species are eyed to reduce movement of soil contaminants to the groundwater and to the bay. These will stabilize the soil as contaminants are absorbed by the trees’ roots.

   The six forest species are Molave (Vitex paviflora); Narra (Pterocarpus indicus)); Ipil (Instia bijuga); Bani (Pongomia pinnata ; Nato (Palaquium luzoniense; and Balayong (Cassia nodosa).

   “These plants can quickly absorb chemicals in the abandoned site.  The pit has very high volume of very lethal mercury. Every time  it rains, the contaminated water runs to the bay (Honda Bay) in Puerto Princesa.  We’re now working on a research on these plants’ use to absorb the chemicals,” said ERDB Director Henry A. Adornado in a biotechnology forum.

   Phytoremediation is the use of green plants to clean up contaminants in the environment without necessarily removing the contaminants directly.

ERDB staff in phytoremediation work in Palawan mercury mine

   ERDB, its Agroforestry Research, Development and Extension Center (ARDEC), is implementing the project with Mines and Geosciences Bureau until 2023.  By then, the abandoned mine will have been transformed into  an ecotourism and research destination in Puerto Princesa City.

   “Phytostabilization using forest trees has been suggested as a cost-efficient, socially acceptable, sustainable, and ecologically-sound solution to remediate heavy metal-contaminated areas. It is ideal to use forest trees because they produce high biomass that serves as storage for contaminants being absorbed and provide aesthetic value  to the area,” according to ERDB.

   The PQM operated from 1953 to 1976 in Barangay Sta. Lourdes producing 2,900 tons of mercury and 2,000,000 tons of mine-waste calcines (retorted ore).

   Unfortunately, this was the era when government has not yet adopted  policies on mine rehabilitation.   The prevailing Philippine Mining Act has now mandated mining companies to fund in advance the future rehabilitation of a mine while still operating.

   Initial field planting in observation plots was conducted in October 2019.

  The phytoremediation project has received initial success as all the six forest tree species had a 90 to 94% mean survival rate. 

   Neverthless, Narra and Molave performed with an even promising mean growth increment in terms of height and diameter.

   The sample collection for the plant-tissue and rhizospheric soil and their analysis are scheduled before the end of this year. The samples will determine plants’ capability to do actual phytostabilization work that will prevent contaminants’ movement to the bay water and groundwater.

   “Other parameters such as soil, total mercury and plants’ total accumulated mercury are needed to determine the potential of the test-plants for phytostabilization,” said ERDB

   Metallophytes and hyperaccumulators—plants that can grow and withstand high heavy metal presence in the soil will also be introduced in the area.

   One million trees are initially eyed to be planted in Barangay Sta. Lourdes.  It is part of a proposal of Puerto Princesa City local government unit to plant Balayong trees in the project area.

   The rehabilitation work of PQM will also involve earthworks (topsoil capping, benching for the slope stabilization, additional landscaping); perimeter lightings with underground wiring;  construction of three-meter wide concrete pathway and fence to contain the 60 meter-wide abandoned national road; installation of water system; repainting of existing inner and outer fence; and construction of driveway parking, guard house, and mini-information center building.

   The MGB and Puerto Princesa’s City Engineering office will be part of the implementation of the infrastructure works under a P10 million fund they are allocating.

   MGB earlier funded with P15 million the first phase of rehabilitation of the PQM mine. This involved the isolation of the area with the construction of outer and inner fences within the identified 20-40 meters buffer zone/easement of the pit lake.

   Earlier vegetation work has been done by introducing carabao grass, bamboo, and other ornamental plants. 
   However, rehabilitating the abandoned mine needs an even more important task of cleaning up of mercury-laden soil which is hoped to be done through the contaminant-absorbing tree species.

   Aquatic and terrestrial biota sampling are also being conducted.  It is carried out along with sediment sampling, research on the health effects of mercury, and a series of information drive and dialogues with partner agencies and mining companies operating in the province.

   The abandoned mine has become a health and environmental hazard in the community.

   Its operation  resulted in  heavy metal contamination in the soil and sediments of the surrounding natural environment.

   Mercury concentration  in the soil,  at 1.04-67.5 milligram (mg), was found to be elevated compared to global background of 0.045-0.16 mg.

   River sediments had 1.8-119 mg, and marine sediments had 0.04-12.7 mg.

   “The mercury  in marine sediments was caused by the erosion of mine waste calcines near the pit lake, and calcines used to construct a wharf at the nearby Honda Bay. Mine wastes represent the largest source of mercury contamination in the area, due to the low efficiency of the recovery process during calcination,” according to a study led by Jessie Samaniego.

   Because of its impact to marine environment and the health of the surrounding community, the mercury mine has been known as a waste hotspot of the world.

Credit XDD Environmental

   Studies since 1994 indicated that population in the area had high mercury concentration  in their hair and blood samples above the recommended exposure of 20 parts per billion.

   They complained of symptoms including miscarriages, tooth loss, muscle weakness, paralysis, anemia, tremors.

   “Department of Health (DOH) reports say that 33–40% of the 10,000 combined Tagburos and Sta. Lourdes residents have ‘chronic mercury poisoning’ from the exposure to mine tailings and ingestion of marine products with high mercury content,” reported Samaniego along Cris Reven Gibaga , Alexandria Tanciongco and Rasty Rastrullo. (Melody Mendoza Aguiba)

Govt embarks on robust “genetic diversity” program on narra, industrial tree species rattan to reverse massive deforestation

PHOTO Saving Philippine Forest Trees Through Genetic Biodversity

November 20, 2018

By Melody M. Aguiba

The government has embarked on a robust “genetic diversity” program of the endangered narra and industrial tree rattan as a commitment to conserve forests amid seemingly irreversible deforestation that threatens economic resources.

The Ecosystems Research & Devt. Bureau (ERDB) has started carrying out DNA analysis of these economically important tree species as a long term support to the National Greening Program (NGP) of DENR.

Genetic variation is the basis of evolution and the catalyst for species to adapt to ever changing environment.

“Assessment of genetic variation among and within populations is essential for the success of any tree breeding and selection programs. It holds vast potentials for the preservation of the forest ecosystems,” said Dr. Sofio B. Quintana, ERDB Director.

Six provinces– Ilocos Sur, Cebu, Iloilo, Marinduque, Nueva Vizcaya and Quezon—has so far been identified as potential sources of good planting materials for narra reforestation.

“The genetic diversity analysis showed that the 6 populations of Pterocarpus indicus Wild (narra) from the 6 provinces have good levels of genetic variation and can serve as good sources of potentially useful genes,” according to ERDB genetic experts Maria Theresa A. Delos Reyes, Gracetine D. Magpantay, Aimee G. Cagalawan, Aida B. Lapis, and Nenita M. Calinawan.

Government has deemed a top priority to conserve forests as a top economic asset as Philippines that has among the most biologically diverse flora with 5% of world’s total.

Narra’s timber is prominent among importers in Asia, Europe, US, and Australia which “accept large volumes of sawn timber at high prices US$600 per cubic meter if it were available,” according to the “Species Profiles for Pacific Island Agroforestry.”
Narra is also known for its medicinal, ornamental, and nitrogen-fixing functions.

1.5 billion trees

ERDB’s project, “2018 Genetic Diversity: A Key Component for Conserving Philippine Forest Trees,” aims to identify trees with molecular markers that indicate high survival rate as part of planting the targeted 1.5 billion trees under the NGP.

“With the increase in global average temperatures, some species of forest trees fail to cope up to such changes. With more genetic variations, it is more likely that some individuals possess alleles (alternative form of genes) that better suit the environment,” said ERDB authors Karol Josef Lucena, Jordan Abellar and Jorge Cyril Viray.

Having less genetic diversity leads to uniformity, with population having individuals less likely to adapt and survive in the changing environment.
While monoculture in agriculture is good for harvesting a good volume of a single crop, it will be a problem when a disease or parasites attack the field in the long run.

Inbreeding harm

Little genetic variation within a species impedes the process of healthy reproduction as evident by the expression of harmful traits in the offspring resulting from inbreeding (mating of genetically related organisms or in human, within one family).

Inbred trees grow slowly, are often deformed and many die suddenly and inexplicably before reaching maturity. Few inbred trees survive and reproduce in natural forest setting.

In 1890, an epidemic had spread across Panama wiping out hectares of banana production. Being genetically identical, banana plants are susceptible to the fungal disease, providing little to no resistance against the disease.

Such scenario ultimately leads to extinction of the population and eventually extinction of the species.

Genetic diversity

“Knowledge of the extent of genetic diversity in selected narra populations may be used in determining the susceptibility of these narra populations to pests like the ambrosia beetles which are the causative agent of fusarium wilt (Fusarium oxysporum),” said the Delos Reyes, Magpantay, Cagalawan, Lapis, and Calinawan in a scientific paper.

Forestry experts use molecular markers as part of effective reforestation strategy because of the “ease, rapidity and reliability in producing results.”

“One of the factors that caused delay and failure to reforestation in the Philippines is the lack of proper evaluation of individuals (trees) of known origins, which includes both morphological and molecular characterization.”

With knowledge of superior traits of trees species, the combination of superior ones will be chosen as planting materials. Among desired traits are timber quality and durability, fast growth, and disease resistance.

DNA sequence

In order for plant geneticists to tell apart genetic variations, they use segments of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) sequence of the individuals to mine them out despite the limited availability of whole genome sequences from forest trees species.

These segments of DNA are called DNA-based molecular markers which are widely used in studying genetic diversity, as well as for identification of species.

According to Abellar, ERDB biologist, after collecting the plant material (leaf, stem, or root), careful optimization of protocols follows wherein the DNA of the material is isolated.

This process is called DNA extraction. The process involves breaking the cell wall and cell membrane (cell lysis), removing the organelles, and destroying the nuclear membrane. After these processes, the “purest” DNA can be extracted.

Having a desirable amount of DNA with superior purity, molecular biologists then subject this DNA to a temperature sensitive process that produces millions of copies of it in a matter of an hour or two. This copying process is called DNA amplification or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) discovered by Nobel Prize winner Kary Mullis in 1985.

It involves a series of heating-cooling-heating the DNA.
These temperature changes allow the enzymes and other reagents to copy the target regions (molecular markers) of the DNA.

PCR is an indispensable technique known to be used in medical and clinical laboratory research including forensic science in crime scene investigations.

It also holds a potential swing in improving forensic botany for higher productivity and survivability of forest trees species and for the trees to achieve superiority in growth parameters.

Bataan, Ilocos

For rattan, the study found Bataan population holding the highest genetic diversity, therefore was rendered as a potential source of genes useful for tree improvement and breeding programs; while for Narra, Ilocos was the most genetically diverse population.

To date, de los Reyes said the diversity of five forest tree species (Narra, Benguet Pine, Bagalunga, Molave, and Ipil) are included in the study Assessment of Genetic Diversity of Priority Forest Tree Species through DNA Analysis of the Genetic Improvement of Priority Forest Tree Species for Quality Wood Production Project.

The species were selected based on the criteria stated in DAO 2010-11 “Revised Regulations Governing Forest Tree Seed and Seedling Production, Collection and Disposition”.

Using these molecular markers, the assessment of Kawayan tinik (Bambusa blumeana Schultes f.) was also completed. Results revealed that the Pangasinan population was the most genetically diverse (Delos Reyes M.A., et al., 2015).


The ERDB genetics researchers used a technology called Random Applied Polymorphic DNA or RAPD as a molecular marker in determining genetic characteristics of individual rattan trees because it is cheaper and simple to use compared to other marker technology.

Because of the limitations presented by RAPD markers, ERDB also utilized a new marker system called Simple Sequence Repeats (SSR) for its other genetic diversity studies.

Moreover, transferability of these SSR markers to progenies planted in Progeny Test Plantation of the Progeny Tests Cum Seedling Seed Orchards study is being documented.

The genetic diversity of these plantations is also being assessed.

Limuan (rattan)

The ERDB biologists had found that Limuran Calamus (rattan) in Bataan, Camarines Norte, and Quezon showed enough variation in the populations, making the 3 provinces an ideal source for Limuran rattan planting materials.

Calamus is the largest genera of rattans with 388 accepted species names. Their canes are used for furniture, walking sticks, and flooring and implement handles. Limuran rattan also has potential pharmaceutical uses with bioactive components found to be anti-inflammatory and anti-diarrhetic. Melody Mendoza Aguiba

Bamboo community in Talim Island being linked to financiers, mechanizers to boost plantation income

Bamboo community in Talim Island being linked to financiers, mechanizers to boost plantation income

Bamboo product in Talim island being tranported to nearby towns
October 17, 2018

A seemingly lowly bamboo craft business has sustained the livelihood of a Talim Island community but awaits partners in mechanization and financing so as to step up into a more organized enterprise.
The bamboo stick producers of Ginoong Sanay, Talim Island, Laguna de Bay, is being linked with partners in financing and machine supply by the Ecosystems Research & Devt. Bureau (ERDB) in its hope to help them upgrade as a more profitable business.
ERDB has recommended the group’s more formal organization and increased investments in bamboo planting.
ERDB Director Dr. Sofio B. Quintana given assistance in plantation financing, micro enterprises like this in Brgy. Ginoong Sanay can grow significantly into a bigger venture.
Credit assistance in bamboo plantation and the aid of machinery will enable the Ginoong Sanay micro enterprise to supply their own raw material needs and even expand into other more profitable bamboo products.
More valued products such as bamboo beds, bamboo sofa, and bamboo table are already made by other barangays in Talim Island.
“They should establish linkage with LGUs and nongovernment institutions including the private sector for any technical and financial assistance they may need, such as the bamboo stick drying machine. They should plant more bamboos in order to sustain their supply of raw materials,” according to ERDB.
Bamboo has been proven to be a versatile crop that flourished in Talim Island even though the island has not been suitable for planting other crops.
“Talim’s craggy terrain may be hostile to other crops, but bamboo particularly the Kawayan Tinik variety grows abundantly on its slopes,” according to Ma. Vienna O. Austria and Myline O. Aparente, ERDB authors.
The Ginoong Sanay bamboo group is composed of 70 bamboo stick makers and 10 dealers. They make up 95% of the Brgy. Ginoong Sanay population. Some of them produce their own bamboo poles and market their own goods.
The sticks they make are used for barbecue, banana cue, fishballs, and other finger/street foods.
Fish ponds and fish cages also use the bamboo poles that they sell.
The Brgy. Ginoong Sanay bamboo enterprise started with the production of “kaing,” the native-looking, nature-friendly equivalent of plastic crates used as container for hauling fruits and vegetables.
“Because kaing slowly became unpopular due to the influx of plastic containers and its production requires more bamboo poles and a higher capital, kaing producers shifted to bamboo stick making in the 1960s with barbeque,” said Austria and Aparente in Canopy International.
Income from bamboo stick making generated resources for food, school allowance, transportation, and tuition fees of the producers’ families.
“A meager income is not an issue for them as long as it sustains their daily necessities.”
Majority of them, 90%, have no alternative income source but rely solely on bamboo stick making for sustenance. Extra income comes from fishing, fish and food trading, construction work, laundry and “sari sari” store jobs.
A bamboo farmer sells the raw material for P62 per pole.
The bamboo traders among them earn a higher average of P6,640 per month on top additional P3,685 per month for stick making.
In a month, a bamboo stick maker may earn as much as P6,400 to a low of P1,000, bringing average to P2,776 monthly.

As they grew short of raw material bamboo within their barangay, they sourced bamboo poles from nearby barangays. This somehow benefited people in Malakaban, Tabon, Kinaboogan, Talim, Binitagan, and Sapang. Most of their supply now comes from other areas, leaving only 27% sourcing from Brgy. Ginoong Sanay.
The bamboo trade has been a family tradition with each member playing roles in harvesting, hauling, cutting, slicing or splitting of bamboo poles, sharpening into small javelins, drying of the stocks, cleaning or polishing, counting, bundling, and selling.
Right now, the dealers serve as financiers for the stick production. The products are sold to the market on a consignment basis—paid to farmers and producers upon sale completion. They are distributed to market stalls throughout Binan, Sta. Rosa, Cabuyao, Calamba in Laguna, Bicutan (Taguig), Alabang (Muntinlupa), and Antipolo.
In relation to expanding bamboo supply in Rizal, the province that largely covers Talim Island, ERDB has partnered with Pilipinas Shell Foundation Inc (PSFI) on clonal nursery operation and bamboo propagation.
As a support to the National Greening Program, PSFI will help propagate quality planting materials (seedlings) of indigenous trees including bamboo propagules.
ERDB and PSFI have just opened PSFI’s clonal facility and forest nursery for bamboo in Brgy. Malaya, Pililla, Rizal last July 26, 2018.
“The regard for the environment is very high in Pilipinas Shell’s agenda. We see a very good alignment on what Shell wants to happen with what the government wants to happen,”said Cesar G. Romero, Shell Philippines country manager.
The clonal nursery will yield about 30,000 bamboo seedlings for 9 to twelve months.
“That’s a big jump from what we produce in our existing nurseries,” said PSFI Executive Director Edgardo Veron Cruz said.
PSFI’s bamboo propagation facility will grow select Philippine bamboo species.
“This is an initial move and what excites me also is the inclusion of bamboo propagation for two things – one, bamboo can absorb 3-4x carbon dioxide compared to other species. And also, bamboo provides plenty of livelihood opportunities,” said Cruz.
ERDB carried out a training last Sept. 12 to 14 on “Tree Clonal and Bamboo Propagation Technology and Nursery Operations” at the PSFI Training Center in Pililla, Rizal.
The training also delved on technical and managerial skills needed to run the clonal facility.
The PSFI-ERDB training included the following topics:
• Resource Material Selection by Forester Faith Anne Manarin
• Hedge Garden Establishment & Management
• Concept and Practical Application of Rooting Hormone
• Clonal Propagation Technology by Forester Alexander John Borja
• Bamboo Propagation and Nursery Management Practices by Mr. Nelson Levi M. Lantican
• Forest Tree Seed Center Operations Manual by Forester Rosalinda S. Reaviles
• Hi-Q Vam 1 Application Techniques by Ms. Famela J. Bonsol.
The training observed a “hands-on demonstration” mode and also led a target and action planning workshop.
Romero said environmental upliftment is a top priority for the company having engaged in conservation of the Tubbataha Reefs, coastal cleanups, mangrove tree planting, community waste management programs around its distribution terminals nationwide, and, tree planting of endemic species in Mt. Banahaw, Quezon as part of its Carbon Sink Management Program. (Growth Publishing for ERDB). End

Ph to tap huge ocean carbon stock potential, to sequester significant pollutant CO2

September 15, 2018

The Philippines is tapping its huge carbon stock potential from its ocean’s seagrasses as it has one of world’s longest coastlines that may sequester significant pollutant CO2 from fossil fuel-run vehicles.
The Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB) has embarked on a basic research on carbon sequestration potential of seagrass beds.
It was found out that a 50-hectare seagrass meadows in Lian, Batangas can capture 97 megagrams of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent to the annual emission of 20 cars.
The blue carbon study likewise involves identification of seagrass species that have high carbon sequestration capacity to offset emissions.
“Some people think seagrasses are mere colonizers and can quickly appear and disappear. Others think that planting of mangroves on seagrass beds is all right. As such, our objective is to unfold another important ecological value of seagrasses in the ecosystem,” said Jose Isidro Michael T. Padin, ERDB supervising science research specialist.
The Philippines was identified by WorldAtlas.com to have sixth largest coastlines in the world with 36,289 kilometers– being an archipelago.
In relation to this, ERDB, as the research arm of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), is conducting blue carbon study in other sites—Alabat Island, Quezon; Coron, Palawan; Catanauan, Quezon; and Masinloc, Zambales.
“We’re just waiting for the complete plant tissue carbon content datasets for us to estimate the captured CO2 in other study sites,” Padin said.
ERDB Director Dr. Sofio B. Quintana said ERDB has a thrust to provide DENR the research backup on seagrasses as these have important economic and ecological value. However, such value may sometimes be underestimated due to their indirect nature.
Seagrass experts led by Bryan M. Dewsbury noted these benefits are as direct food source, nursery function (commercial fishes, coral reef fishes and tourism revenue), carbon sequestration, wave energy reduction (erosion control and coastline integrity, coastal real estate value), sediment stability, and improved water quality (from its use of marine nutrients).
Presently, the Philippines does not have any mature technology on seagrass rehabilitation.
Padin said that seagrass transplantation studies have been conducted in the 1990s by academic research institutions in the country, but those undertakings might have gained little success.
“Seagrasses occur in shallow tidal flats, where they are exposed during low tides. Some species can grow down to depths of 12 to 60 meters” he said.
Seagrasses are sometimes found growing together with corals –making up coastal resources that have huge ecological value in preventing coastal erosion, breaking the “power of the waves during storms, tsunamis” (WWF).

Economic value

In Australia, economic value of seagrass beds has been placed at $103.74 million per year owing to the market price of species as that use these as their home based on productivity model.
“The rhizomes of seagrasses hold the sediment in place and thus reduce the flux of nutrients from the benthos into the water column. This lessens the probability of (potentially pollutant) algal blooms that can cause permanent seagrass loss,” said Dewsbury.
These also have economic value from medical raw materials.

Manila Bay

As part of enhancing Philippines’ coastal resources, ERDB is also providing basic knowledge for government on the coral reef status within the Manila Bay Area (MBA).
“People say there are no more corals in MBA, but the recent coastal resource map of NAMRIA tells us that corals can still be found in Naic (Cavite), and Corregidor (Bataan). We just completed validation of corals in Maragondon (Cavite) and Ternate (Cavite),” Padin said.
NAMRIA stands for National Mapping and Resource Information Authority.
The coastal area of Cavite has nearly 290 hectares of coral reefs and ERDB is currently determining the percentage of living corals and population of other organisms in those reefs.
“We’re also trying to determine what to prioritize for protection in areas that can be classified as MPA (Marine Protected Area) so we know where to put the core of the ‘no touch’ zone,” said the ERDB resource person.


The sustainability of seagrasses have been threatened by some human activities such as heavy dredging from construction works, grounding of vessels and motorized boats, release of chemical-filled effluents from human activities, and overfishing.
The fact that 40% of the world’s population live in coastal areas pose threats to seagrass meadows, according to Dewsbury and co-authors in “A Review of Seagrass Economic Valuations: Gaps and Progress in Valuation Approaches.”
The seagrass itself has direct use as raw material for “thatching roofs and making sound proof recording studios” owing to its high silica content, although seagrass capture has been prohibited in some countries due to their value.


Seagrass beds are nursery for juvenile of commercial fishes. They protect small fishes from large predators.
“They are feeding grounds for marine species that inhabit coral reefs in their adult stages…”
Seagrass beds keep sediments through their rhizome structure, reducing siltation.
“The resulting water clarity (from seagrasses) is very important for the seagrasses themselves who are light dependent, but is also important for sometimes adjacent coral reef ecosystems, that depend on high light incidence to survive,” Noted Dewsbury.
“A seagrass die-off in Florida Bay in 1990 resulted in the partial death of coral in the Florida Keys reef tract.”
Their water purifying function cannot be undervalued.
“Seagrass root structure keep water column transparent allowing corals to benefit from high light incidence, necessary for its survival (Rogers, 1990). Seagrasses also house meiofauna that are a food source for some diurnal reef fish species that leave the reef tract to feed in the seagrass beds at night (Robblee and Zieman, 1984).
Seagrass beds also have recreational fisheries value– snorkeling, SCUBA diving, and boating. (Growth Publishing for ERDB)