Mangrove forests are highly productive, complex and diverse coastal ecosystems which are situated between the land and the sea. They are relatively rare – – they only exist in subtropical and tropical areas, and cover a combined total area of about 152,000 square kilometers (58,687 square miles), which is less than 1% of all tropical forests worldwide. Dense, healthy mangrove stands provide protection for communities from typhoons and strong wave action. They are also used by local residents as sources of fuel and food. Shellfish and mangrove-dwelling fish provide key protein sources for many coastal communities, and there are also a range of livelihood opportunities present in these ecosystems, many of which have the potential to be developed further.
The Philippines is home to at least half of the world’s 65 mangrove species, and is considered one of the top 15 most mangrove-rich countries in the world. However, while the Philippines held about 400,000-500,000 hectares (1,000,000-1,200,000 acres) of mangroves in the 1920s, this area had dropped to around 120,000 hectares (300,000 acres) by 1994 due to the development of aquaculture ponds, and clearing from coastal dwellers and various other industries. Recent estimates show an increase in mangrove forest area to around 256,185 hectares (633,046 acres), but this is still far short of what was in place before.
In the last five years, mangrove restoration efforts are increasing; however, in their rush to fulfill the tree-planting targets of the country’s National Greening Program, many local government agencies, and other civic society groups have planted the wrong species in the wrong areas, and/or planted only one species in areas that would naturally harbour a dynamic mixture of species. This has resulted in very low survival rates (10% to 20%) of mangrove plantings across the country.
While mangroves have historically been undervalued, they provide critical ecosystem services for the wildlife and communities living nearby. People often assume that saving mangroves is only about the trees themselves, but there are so many other benefits to mangrove restoration that are not widely known.
Our vision, therefore, is to restore our mangrove forests to the thriving ecosystems they used to be, and to show the world that mangroves are beneficial not just today, but for humanity’s future, too.
Our project aims to facilitate community-based mangrove restoration efforts in abandoned, unproductive and underutilized (AUU) fishponds. We aim to enhance these bottom-up restoration efforts through participatory knowledge transfer on sustainable methods of mangrove restoration. One of the key activities we will carry out is mapping and identifying AUU fishponds and other potential sites for mangrove restoration, as these places do not currently ensure food security for local communities, help to mitigate climate change, or contribute to the National Climate Change Action Plan.
A key element of this project will be to bring various government agencies together with village leaders, fishpond lessees, and community-based organizations to explore how to revert these fishponds to mangrove forests, whilst also facilitating sustainable livelihood development for local communities. This will not be a year-long process, but rather an ongoing endeavor to push toward the prioritization of wetlands in the Philippines. According to government experts, proposals to restore mangrove forests in AUU fishponds usually take about five years to get off the ground due to the paperwork and legalities involved.
Our project site is located approximately 366 kilometres (227 miles) north of metropolitan Manila, in the province of Ilocos Sur, which harbors a mix of luscious forests, colorful underwater seascapes, and rich cultural traditions. The province has a long coastline, which stretches over about 157 kilometres (98 miles). The area is frequently hit by typhoons: there are an average of seven typhoons a year, and these frequently lead to floods, siltation, and destruction. The province has 78.27 hectares (193 acres) of mangroves; in contrast, there are approximately 301 hectares (743 acres) of operational fishponds in the area. According to scientific sources, the ideal mangrove-to-fishpond ratio is 4:1, in order to maintain ecological health and mitigate the fishponds’ negative nutrient-loading effects.
To help implement the project and achieve the vision of wetland restoration, the team behind Oceanus Conservation – a non-profit environmental organization focusing on blue carbon and conservation technology – is bringing together experts from diverse backgrounds. Cesar Paolo Ubaldo, our Stakeholder Director, has cultivated a good relationship with the Provincial Government; Earwin Belen, our GIS expert and an agriculturist, will assist in the mapping of the fishponds and mangroves and advise on possible livelihood opportunities; and I, Camille Rivera, will bring both scientific and local knowledge on mangrove conservation practices, as well as translating that science to the community to help build sustainable, community-based conservation practice.
This project would not be possible without the help and guidance of my mentor, Dr. Rupesh Bhomia of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), who has extensive research experience in blue carbon, and his network’s contribution to our organization. I would also like to acknowledge the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) and the Youth in Landscapes Initiative (YIL) for making it possible for us to restore these wetlands and help secure the future of the Filipino people.