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Botanical Survey of Lorelei Island

By Gina Mapua

Trip One

Last November 28 and 29, at the request of Antique Representative Loren Legarda, and under the aegis of the Philippine Native Plant Conservation Society Inc. (PNPCSI), Atty. Ipat Luna, Architect Rey Solero and just-plain-old-me conducted an initial survey of Lorelei Island, located just off the fishing village of Calayo, Nasugbu. Lorelei island is actually three islands. Two islands, a large one and a smaller one, are joined by a substantial sandbar. The third “island” is just a coral reef that barely juts out of the water. Our goal was to survey the islands’ vegetation to determine if it has the potential for the PNPCSI to consider a collaboration with Rep. Legarda.

After an 18-minute banca ride, we offloaded onto a rocky beach and set up camp. There were very few amenities on the island. There was a house built of stone and cement that lost is roof to a typhoon, and there was a sort of shack in worse condition. At least there was a toilet, although the typhoon blew the door and roof off too. We all had to time our trips to the loo most judiciously.

Architect Rey inspecting one of the trees at the campsite. That’s Ahmad in the background. Stone house in the background.

The first thing we noticed was the tall salimbobog or balai lamok (Cratevea religiosa) in full bloom right behind the stone house. Rey was so delighted he dropped everything to give the tree his full inspection.

After a quick meal, we divided the terrain for each of us to quickly survey before the sun set. The big island was divided into areas A and B, while the smaller island was area C. Rey took A, I took B and Ipat took C. 

Drawing with permission from Architect Rey Solero

Note that not one of us were botanists of any sort. We could identify only the most commonly known trees, while our guides helped us identify a few more. Noteworthy were the calumpangs (Sterculia foetida) that dramatically leaned out over the steep cliffs, especially on the northeastern side of the large island, large areas dominated pandan, and the buri palms (Corypha utan) that stood above the canopy on both islands. Other trees were malakalumpang (Sterculia ceramica), talisay (Terminalia catappa), molave (Vitex parviflora), narra (Pterocarpus indicus), bayok (Pterospermum diversifolium), himbabao (Broussonetia luzonica), dapdap (Erythrina variegata), lanete (Wrightia pubescens), bani (Milletia pinnata) and noni (Morinda citrifolia). But there were alien/non-native species as well: mahogany, ipil-ipil, gmelina, and Acacia falcata in particular.

After a dinner of grilled fish and fried calumpang seeds (they are edible!), Ipat and Rey retired to their own tents while I settled into my hammock tied between bani and talisay trees. From our campsite we could see the lights of the posh houses in Punta Fuego, but I think sleeping under the stars was grander.

Evidence of what the island can offer to hungry visitors

The next day, while Rey continued to survey the vegetation, I decided to look around for other life. I had already counted 15 bird species and reported my sightings on ebird. https://ebird.org/checklist/S76922069 Notable were the two Brahminy kites that were nesting in area B. Fortunately, area B has no trails for humans to readily access the area and so the birds are relatively undisturbed.

I checked out the sandbar and rock pools for marine life. Limpets the size of 10-peso coins clung to the rocks. I have not seen limpets these large. But what really surprised me was the variety of corals all strewn about. I even found a sizeable sponge, which we used to wash dishes with, since we had forgotten to bring a dish sponge. And while the variety of coral was impressive, I suspect the reason why such a large variety in sizeable pieces comprise the sandbar is because of dynamite fishing. Still, the waters around the island are lush with life. One of our guards named Ahmad waded out into the water and in less than 10 minutes came back with a bucketful of grape seaweed for our salad.

How many coral species do you see?

Our conclusion was that the islands were essentially botanically sound and we would recommend to the PNPCSI board to look into collaborating with Rep. Legarda.

Trip Two

We realized we needed actual plant people, rather than the novices that Ipat, Rey and I were for a more thorough survey of the islands. For our next trip to the island on 6 to 7 February, we recruited PNPCSI heavy guns like Ronald Achacoso, Edwin Tadiosa, and Noel Malacad and the difference was immediately heard. As we walked the trails, we didn’t hear local names of plants, we heard scientific names.

One false step and straight into the drink
From left: Edwin Tadiosa, Gina Mapua, Rey Solera, Ronald Achacoso, Noel Malacad

Ronald pointed out a small low plant with rounded, deep green leaves and called it a Binangonan kamuning. He said it wasn’t really a kamuning but it was a popular bonsai plant. The plant is beginning to disappear from the wild due to demand from the bonsai market. Species name is still unclear.

We were able to identify many beach forest species but nothing outstanding or rare. Rep. Legarda’s caretaker named Vic had earlier released six goats on the islands. And while we saw neither hide nor hair of them, we saw signs of them: gnawed tree bark, truncated bushes and narrow little trails through the vegetation.  After the team had toured all three sections of the islands, we came to these findings:

1. The islands possess a regular beach forest assemblage of species. Different areas held distinctly different combinations of species.

2. The species present on the islands are a combination of naturally occurring species and recently planted species such as the coconuts, mahogany, gmelina, Acacia falcata and a few other species that once comprised the garden around Rep. Legarda’s beach house, now completely razed to the ground.

While we tasted fried calumpang seeds on the first trip, this time, some of us ventured to taste some ripe pandan fruit. As Ronald described it, “It’s like eating a bland fruit and getting flossed at the same time.” I think next time I’ll see about making a pasta sauce from the abundant shellfish in the rockpools.

Just was we were packing up to leave the island, Noel Malacad, who tended to wander off into the brush as we went through the trails, said he saw some orchids in some remote part of the island. We dropped everything and headed to the spot where the orchids were. It involved threading our way through trees and undergrowth, partly following narrow little goat trails, partly forging through thorns and tricky trippy roots and vines till we reached a cliffside with huge calumpangs overhanging the sea. One false step and it was straight into the drink. One calumpang was barely hanging on to the rocks. And there at the tips of the branches were several Vandas with little yellow flowers. Such a beautiful sight! But the sobering thought was that the only reason those orchids were there was because they were almost impossible to reach. I hope they stay that way and that the calumpangs don’t fall into the sea during a typhoon.

How a calumpang overhangs the sea

Once back on the mainland, we brainstormed and drew up a short plan for the next actions. The group will urge the PNPCSI board to take on the project of managing the island and proposing a plan to Rep. Legarda. While the proposal is being developed, some short-term actions can already begin. We are coming into summer and this is the best time to reduce the invasive species by girding the larger trees. We had girded two ipil-ipils and we will check their status on the next trip. We had already begun the process of segregating the large pile of trash the caretaker had amassed from the shoreline. Architect Rey plans to use the empty alcohol bottles for a future structure, while all the plastics are now collected into the large fiberglass pools that was once used to catch rainwater.  There is still much trash to be collected from the island and either hauled off or put to some use.  Walking trails aside from those already present have to be established for future possible geo-tagging of all vegetation as well a possible future botanical tour. Much more work and plans to be done!

I want to go back!

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