Community-managed and protected mangrove belts provide food, coastal protection
In Calatagan, Batangas, families and local organizations are actively involved in efforts to protect their communities from climate change impacts, in the process generating additional income for their households.
Calatagan, a coastal municipality which is part of the globally-important marine biodiversity conservation corridor Verde Island Passage (VIP), is exposed to strong wave action during typhoons and southwest monsoon. Without proper coastal protection and with increased storm frequency and intensity expected due to climate change, the municipality can suffer impacts such as coastal erosion; coral damage; and damage to boats, fishing equipment, and coastal infrastructure.
However, the municipality also has mangrove areas stretching across its coasts, serving as natural defense systems against climate change impacts.
Calatagan considers its mangrove forests as important areas for conservation, and for the past several years, Conservation International-Philippines (CI-P), starting with initiatives under its Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape project, has been working with the municipality in protecting and improving the management of their mangrove areas and other coastal and marine resources.
In 2009, the Carretonan-Quilitisan Mangrove Forest Conservation Area was declared by the local government, making it the first mangrove protected area in the VIP (since then, other mangrove forest conservation areas have also been established in San Juan and Lobo in Batangas as well as in Calapan City in Oriental Mindoro).
The Quilitisan barangay leadership and youth council made a strong push for mangrove protection and were instrumental in getting the local ordinance passed. In support of the local community’s vision to develop the area as an ecotourism destination, Conservation International granted funds for the construction of a mangrove walkway and outlined recommendations on how the community can be involved in directly managing and developing the site as an ecotourism area.
Immediately after the construction of the walkway, the community started earning income from local and outside tourists alike. Known as “Ang Pulo”
(or The Island, because the main viewdeck is located in an island cluster of mangroves that can be reached by raft), the area is now operating as a communitymanaged ecotourism destination.
the tourist walkway of Ang Pulo, as seen from the viewdeck
Community members who earned or are currently earning income through this project include local boatmen and jeepney or tricycle drivers that ferry tourists to the site, workers who were employed in constructing and maintaining the walkway, and women’s groups who serve as tour guides, caterers or sellers of souvenir items.
A local fisherman who occassionaly serves a boatman for tourists said that the project has brought many benefits to their community because of the additional income it was able to generate. “Marami ring nakakarating sa amin dito na mga turista at galing sa iba-ibang bansa para tingnan ang mangrove na aming itinanim (We also get a lot of visitors, with some even coming from other countries, to see the mangroves that we planted),” he said, with a hint of pride in his voice.
Aside from exploring the mangrove areas, tourists can also get the chance to plant mangrove seedlings themselves in support of conservation efforts.
In the neighboring barangay of Balibago, efforts focused on mangrove rehabilitation and maintenance of a mangrove nursery. These efforts started in 2009 and since then, 120,000 seedlings have been planted in three out of the ten hectares designated as rehabilitation area, a mangrove nursery has been established, and a business plan for managing the nursery has been formulated.
The project is jointly managed by the Calatagan Mangrove Development Alliance (CALMADA), the Youth Environment Society (YES) of Balibago, and the Calatagan municipal government. It utilizes a family-approach strategy, banking on the concept of the Filipino culture of strong family ties.
According to CALMADA president Virgilio Enriquez, under this project, a group of eleven (11) families in the village rehabilitates a three-hectare mangrove area with 120,000 propagules and maintains a nursery that produces about 10,000 seedlings of mangroves to support reforestation efforts in adjacent coastal communities. The potted seedlings are sold at P20.00 per piece.
The local communities who are managing the area are now generating income from the sale of mangrove seedlings from different groups who are undertaking mangrove reforestation.
Enriquez also noted that more shells and other marine life that can serve as food are gathered from the mangrove areas now compared to the time when no protection was in place.
“Nagkakaroon na po ng mga nakukuhang lamang-dagat. Dumadami na po yung nakikita nilang isda, hipon, alimangong bato, shells. Nakikita na po nila yung kagandahan ng aming ginagawa, (Community members have been seeing improvements in the fish, shrimp, crabs and shells that they are able to gather in the area, so they now see the benefits of the work that we are doing),” said Enriquez.
A guardhouse was also constructed so communities can monitor the growth and condition of the planted mangroves. This also helps ensure protection of the nursery and remaining mangrove forests from undesirable intruders and destructive uses.
Emelyn Custodio, the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Officer of Calatagan, said that they are hoping that the project will encourage other barangays in the municipality to rehabilitate and protect their mangrove areas.
Evangeline Miclat, who manages CI’s mangrove rehabilitation efforts in Calatagan under the USAID-funded Coral Triangle Support Partnership (CTSP), noted the spirit of volunteerism and active involvement that is evident among the partners in the community.
“There is inherent passion among the stakeholders to conserve nature; they are aware that a protected nature protects its people. There is also strong leadership and political will in the local government,” she said. “All these are ingredients to conservation successes in the site and motivate other partners to provide support.”
In other areas of the Verde Island Passage where communities are vulnerable to stronger wave action, sea level rise and increased storminess due to climate change, similar efforts are also being pursued. Local communities in San Juan, Batangas and in Calapan in Oriental Mindoro are being engaged to take on the challenge of protecting and rehabilitating their mangrove areas.
Wider mangrove belts will be able to protect houses and establishments located along the coastline against strong waves, coastal flooding and erosion brought about by climate change. Increased mangrove areas also provide additional food supply and improve fisheries by attracting and supporting various sorts of marine life, and offer additional income through ecotourism or the sale of mangrove seedlings.
As the community members of Calatagan have experienced, there is great payback in protecting and rehabilitating our natural resources.
“There is much to be learned from this experience and also from the experiences of storm-ravaged coastal towns and cities like Manila,” said Enrique Nuñez, Sulu Sulawesi Seascape Manager of CI Philippines.
“The storm surges brought about by Typhoon Pedring that battered Manila last month should remind us that coastlines of Manila Bay were once covered with mangroves, protecting villages from strong wave action. Manila or Maynila owes its name from what used to be an abundant mangrove species called nilad,” Nuñez noted.
“We are confident that the experience of Calatagan will result in reduced vulnerability to climate change amongcommunities who depend on the health of the mangroves for their livelihood. It will also enhance and improve benefits from ecosystem services such as food security aside from protection from storm surges.”