After weeks of planning, virtual discussions and project site visits in North Mindanao, we have secured the possibility of working on two restoration sites. Site 1 is an abandoned fishpond site in Misamis Occidental, for which we are waiting for a decision from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Working at the site will require full cooperation with the DENR, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) assigned in the area. The process is as follows: BFAR is mandated to locate and identify abandoned fishpond areas and send this information on to DENR. DENR will then send this information to the central DENR office in Metro Manila for next steps. When approved, the central office will re-designate the abandoned fishponds as mangrove forests, and we will then coordinate with the local government about restoration practices. The process might take a considerable amount of time, and requires continuous follow-up from our end. This will give us time to focus on site 2.
Site 2 is located in the Municipality of Salay, Macajalar Bay. It has been chosen because of interest from an active community organization and a local government restoration program. The chosen area has mature trees of two frontline mangrove species – Avicennia marina and Sonneratia alba, indicating a former mangrove forest, and high survival rates of these kinds of trees, in these areas. The presence of these two species will inform what species thrive, and should be the basis of decisions about what to plant.
Back in 2018, researchers from Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan (XU) carried out a project to generate a map of existing mangrove hotspots and identify potential restoration sites in Macajalar Bay. According to Sean Betonio and Fae Ucat, two of the technical assistants in XU working on mangrove restoration, the criteria used to tag areas as potential sites for restoration were: historical information (i.e. places that used to be mangrove forests), chemical and physical parameters, and confirmation from the local government office that there were no future plans for industrial or commercial development at the site.
As part of our efforts, we have established a Memorandum of Agreement with XU, and this has helped us acquire information about the sites that have high potential for restoration. The 2018 XU map will be our basis for a secondary assessment. Below left photo is the generated story map that XU produced, using arcGIS, on the local potential restoration sites in Macajalar Bay, North Mindanao.
Photo: existing mature Sonneratia alba (taller tree) with planted Rhizophora seedlings (smaller in height), seen during our site assessment in the Municipality of Salay.
Using field-tested, scientifically-developed protocols for successful mangrove restoration, species will be selected that are most suitable for the natural habitat, where inundation frequency is relatively high. In the upcoming weeks, with the support of our partnership with XU, the local Macajalar Bay community will begin establishing a nursery of Avicennia and Sonneratia seedlings.
What are our criteria for site selection?
Whether we are restoring abandoned fishponds or any other site, we look into three main aspects before selecting our restoration sites:
- biological, chemical and physical parameters (i.e. existence of alive mature trees, sediment, inundation, location);
- existence of a community group/people’s association; and
- local government programs that support restoration.
The first point is often the main criterion for assessing the site. There are numerous studies about proper planting and which species to use in which coastal zone. Sediment supply is also important: healthy and abundant mangrove colonies are often found in muddy substrate that is replenished by fresh water, sediment and nutrients. Without adequate sediment supply, mangroves are threatened with sea-level rise and coastal erosion.
However, the need to check the existence of community and local government programs, and interact with them appropriately, is often underestimated. Questions such as “Why restore?” or “Who benefits?” should also be considered when finding a site. Oftentimes, many civic groups go to a site and restore mangroves without checking the three main aspects listed above, and expect that the mangrove trees they planted will survive – but this is often not the case.
The latter two points are particularly important for our restoration work because our objective is long-term sustainability. Local communities and government units live near the mangrove areas, and their participation is necessary for the protection and stewardship of the sites – which is fundamental to making any restoration work successful. Their role in the monitoring of restored sites is key for their long-term survival and resilience. When planted mangroves are mature, local communities benefit from ecosystem services they provide, such as storm protection and food security.
During our initial survey we also explored communities’ perception towards mangroves. “The communities residing near a mangrove area which is used for ecotourism activities see mangroves as an asset in their livelihood,” said Betonio. “On the other hand, communities residing in non-tourist areas see mangroves as an important ecological breeding ground for marine life. They also see mangroves as protectors against strong wave action and wind. However, some such communities are less interested – especially when the site is located in a more industrialized area, and if government programs for mangrove restoration are not consistent annually.”
Even if government officials change, community involvement helps the sites to remain intact and protected, and “the project can be spared from threats of discontinuity brought about by newly elected officials, resigned/retired government employees and other political views,” said Ucat. Local government programs remain one of the considerations in our site assessment because we need to make sure that they have no plans for commercial developments in the area which will defeat the purpose of restoration. As such, when doing restoration work, every stakeholder in the area must be consulted in, and aligned with, the objectives of the project in order to ensure the longevity of the restored site.