Local stories

Bolinao CoE toughs out typhoon

A valiant effort by CRTR Working Group and Centre of Excellence members has averted disaster in the wake of a "once in 25-years" typhoon which struck the Bolinao Marine Laboratory in the Philippines in May 2009.

One of the seawater pipes (which supplies seawater for the raceways) was operational almost straight away.The day after the typhoon hit everyone from the laboratory was back at work and the centre was up and running using generators and an autonomous freshwater system.

Known internationally as “Chon Ham”, the typhoon swiped Bolinao with winds above 150 kilometres per hour, gusting up to 185kph. The high winds on the “wall” of the eye hit the town twice, coming from opposite directions within a matter of minutes.

On the night of the typhoon, the audio-visual room on the ground floor served as an emergency shelter for many local residents. No one at the station was hurt or injured, reports the Chair of the CRTR Southeast Asian CoE, Emeritus Professor Ed Gomez, but the homes of many local staff suffered major damage.

On a sad note, more than two dozen caretakers and their dependents who were living on the fish cage and fish pen structures were drowned. On land, another half dozen lost their lives. It was estimated that 80% of buildings in the town of Bolinao suffered substantial damage.

The Bolinao laboratory's seawater system, which included two sets of two HDPE intake pipes was torn up, was partly damaged by anchors of fishing vessels that had sought shelter within the Bolinao Channel immediately in front of the marine laboratory.

On land, the hatchery facility roofs flew off, including those of the pumphouses. About one-third of the main laboratory building’s roof was ripped up on the seaward slant. One ridge roll of the administration building was torn off, as well as part of the roof on two duplexes, causing water damage in the buildings, particularly their ceilings and electrical connections.

The laboratory roof was damaged by the typhoon
(Image: S. Licuanan)

Wind damage and felled trees resulted in communications and electrical wires to be torn off, cutting off the dive locker’s power lines from the generator. About three dozen window panes shattered plus two glass doors from the force of the wind.

Fortunately, no major equipment was damaged inside the laboratories. External communications were very affected - telephone and internet services are still not up. Cell phone communication was initially limited but is now fully operational. The compound functioned with its own generator sets and freshwater system while the town’s own electricity and water systems were down (now restored).

The underwater experimental sites were largely unaffected, including giant clams, coral nurseries, and most transplant sites. Hence, field work resumed almost immediately, while invertebrate larval rearing work is essentially on hold, except for the small coral spawning experiment reported elsewhere by Dr. James Guest who visited shortly after the storm.

Emergency repairs of the land facilities have been undertaken and the bidding for the repair of the main laborator is already in process. Fortunately, within two weeks of the typhoon. Bolinao has received funding assurance for repairs from the University of Philippines campus and system administrations.

For Professor Gomez, an avid tree collector and grower, this report would not be complete without a note on the vegetation. The typhoon wreaked havoc on Professor Gomez's beloved trees at the laboratory.

Immediately after the storm, the compound looked as though a giant lawn mower had run over it. There was hardly a leaf left on the trees and shrubs.

About 20% of the trees were lost from being uprooted or broken in half. But three weeks after the typhoon, the place looks like early spring with the living plants regenerating lost foliage, except for the debris of broken branches and twigs on the grounds that still need to be removed.

In the meantime, saplings and seedlings for replanting have been collected and are being put in place as time permits.

“I will have a good deal of work to replace or rehabilitate them,” Professor Gomez says with a sigh – but admits it will be fun!

Some photos and a brief account are also available at the Marine Science Institute’s website

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