SORSOGON CITY, Sorsogon – Surrounded by crowds of youngsters milling about in Sorsogon’s Provincial Capitol Park, Milo Naval sat watching the reinstallation of lights and wirings on the sixteen foot Christmas trees he designed and conceptualized in Sorsogon City.
The thirty Christmas trees made of discarded shells of seafood “baluko” (pen shell) were reassembled Tuesday after being dismantled and temporarily stored away before typhoon “Ruby” hit Luzon earlier this week.
His crutches lying beside him, Naval was also supervising the men reinstalling the ten Christmas lanterns, in the shape of the traditional Filipino star “parol” and also made out of pen shells, at the facade of Sorsogon’s Provincial Capitol and ground of the Capitol Park.
Naval, an international furniture designer and now consultant for Economic and Tourism Affairs of Sorsogon provincial government, said that each of the Christmas trees were made out of more than 2,000 individual shells of “baluko” weaved together onto a wire frame.
Every night, these Christmas decors are lit with cool blue light, attracting locals and tourists alike to proudly show how discarded parts of an edible seashell can be useful despite being considered trash by most people.
Cristina Racelis, designated provincial tourism officer of Sorsogon, said they encouraged the local fishermen and residents of coastal barangays in Sorsogon City to gather the discarded shells of “baluko” littering the fish port here to create the Christmas trees and lanterns.
She added that they saw the project as a way to end the problem of discarded “baluko” shells littering the shores of Sorsogon City left there by vendors.
She said the edible seashell indigenous to Sorsogon and is sold by locals for P20 per kilo. Sorsogon also sells and exports “baluko” to Manila and neighboring Asian countries at almost triple the price.
“I hope Sorsoganons will see ‘baluko’ as another icon to represent them alongside ‘butanding’ (whale shark) and pili. I hope one day, they will use it proudly,” he said.
“You just put the word ‘so’ before any adjective to describe anything from Sorsogon, like these Christmas trees here. So awesome. So Sorsogon,” he said.
Naval, who was originally from Navotas but married a Sorsoganon, said “baluko” shells can replace capiz shells in some decorations. Unlike capiz shells which is pure white, “baluko” is golden with brown and blue streaks which Naval chose to let shine through by using cool blue lights inside the hollow of the trees and lanterns.
He said each tree and lantern was made by at least two people who work together cutting the soft edges of each “baluko” then cutting a hole on them to weave the wire through.
He said they started working on the Christmas trees and lanterns since November of this year. The process took three to five days for each lantern while it took five days for each Christmas tree.
Racelis said the “baluko,” aside from being a lucrative commodity and a source of livelihood among Sorsoganons, is a red tide toxin-proof edible seashell.
She explained that it is the only edible shell that is spared from paralytic red tide toxins because it is found partially submerged in mud and sand unlike the “tahong” (mussels) that are propagated on bamboo and wood under seawater.
Racelis said the “baluko” Christmas trees and “parols” will be on display until February of next year.
She said she hopes that the effort would encourage people to recycle discarded “baluko” shells themselves and other indigenous materials in order to add to the efforts of saving the environment.
She said the uniqueness of the “baluko” Christmas decors, which were first lighted last December 1, have already attracted at least 200 people every night to Sorsogon City.
Rodrigueza said the attraction has become viral on social networks with photos taken by tourists there. He added people have been inquiring about how the “baluko” shells could also be made into other items.