Recently in Mangroves Category

Seacology's Field Representative in the Philippines, Ferdie Marcelo, maintains a blog documenting his experiences working to conserve the rich natural resources and ecosystems in the Philippines. His most recent entry details his recent trip to Barangay Malhaio on Cebu Island, where Seacology is funding the construction of a boardwalk and viewing deck in support of the conservation of 73 hectares (180 acres) of mangrove forest for a duration of 15 years.  Ferdie's description of working with the community to develop a thorough understanding of the conservation agreement with Seacology is especially engaging.

Seacology's win-win formula is simple. An island community commits to protect a natural resource, and in return, Seacology funds a tangible need of the community. To finalize the agreement, a Covenant between the community and Seacology is then signed.

The covenant is not complicated. It just stipulates a few important points: that Seacology will provide the funds required to build the tangible; that Seacology will not claim ownership over any land or sea belonging to the community; and that in return the community pledges to protect the no-take zone agreed on.

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From past experience, this process is usually straightforward. The village will sign the covenant, and the construction will commence. That is, until the village of Malhiao raised a few questions that I thought should be answered face to face.

It took a good three hour ride to get to Malhiao from Cebu City, past the noted beaches of Argao and Moalboal. The barangay's leaders, led by putative Barangay Captain James Taboada, were waiting for us by the time Delfa Talaid of Tambuyog (Seacology's project partner) and I got there late morning yesterday. "Putative" because he is all but officially that, the previous Barangay Captain having died from a stroke the week before, I was just informed. Burial is today, July 3.

The object of the covenant is the village's commitment to protect 73 hectares of mangroves for 15 years, in exchange for Seacology's funding of the construction of a boardwalk and view deck on the Mangroves. The community hopes to develop its own tourism industry by showcasing their lush mangroves.

Of the many concerns they raised, I found four to be particularly incisive, which I have listed below along with my response to each:

Question: What exactly does a "no-take zone" mean? The community conducts mangrove planting activities every once in a while, and there is a concern as to whether activities of that sort will constitute a violation of the covenant. In fact, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, in partnership with Malhiao, has a continuing program where parolees go to Malhiao to plant mangrove trees as part of their community service. Incorporating tree planting in future educational tours are planned as well.

Answer: Tree planting is allowable because this is not extractive in nature.

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Question: Enforcing the no-take zone among the villagers of Malhiao is not a problem, but some fisherfolk from neighboring barangays go to the mangroves to collect shellfish for food. Will people still be allowed to gather shellfish within the mangroves if the mangrove trees themselves are left alone?

Answer: No. Setting aside the mangroves as a no-take zone means that gathering of any sort is prohibited. The benefits of this policy will redound to the five-hectare multi-use zone that the community has also declared. Maintaining an undisturbed mangrove area means more juvenile marine life will have a chance to grow into spawning adults, and the resulting spillover to the multi-use zone will mean more bountiful harvests. It is easy to imagine noticeable results in the quality of harvests in the multi-use zone within six months if the mangroves are fully protected.

Question: What if Malhiao is unable to effectively protect the mangroves? Will there be a penalty imposed?

Answer: The first casualty, if the integrity of the mangroves is ruinously violated, is the productivity of the five-hectare multi-use zone. That by itself is heavy enough a penalty. Secondarily, the plans of the community to capitalize on tourism and the potential business it can bring will be in jeopardy. It will be hard to look for tourists who are willing to pay to see a mangrove area where people indiscriminately set traps and collect all sizes of crabs, seashells, and whatnot. But as far as Seacology is concerned, no penalty can or will be imposed, though it will be unlikely that we will enter into another agreement with the community in the future.

Question: Why does Seacology insist on a term on the village's commitment to protect the mangrove?

Answer: The covenants Seacology enters into generally have a term ranging from 10 to 30 years. This stems from Seacology's view that the succeeding generation should be free to make commitments of their own. If after 15 years the next generation decides to continue protecting the mangroves, it will be because they appreciate the merits of doing so; not because they have to honor some agreement their fathers entered into long ago.

We wound up beginning a shared lunch still discussing the covenant, until the conversations drifted onto other matters towards the end. Finally, after lunch, with all questions laid to rest, the covenant was signed.

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Then came the many ideas on the mangroves. Educational tours, guided mangrove river canoe rides, and bird watching are some of the possible mangrove activities that could spark the beginnings of tourism. Already, Tambuyog has had talks with the Regional Department of Education highlighting the Malhiao mangroves. As a result, an April 2011 memorandum was issued holding the Malhiao mangroves as a guide in the implementation of the Coastal Ecosystem Education program of the department. To assist the barangay in enforcing the no-take zone, the Municipality of Badian agreed to train some villagers to become mangrove guards, and to provide enforcement support if needed.

Looking back, if the questions on the project were raised as a consequence of the barangay's sudden leadership transition, then a lot of credit must be given to incoming Barangay Captain Taboada. He did not just go along with his predecessor's project. He took the project, analyzed it, and after being satisfied with it, gave it his approval, thereby putting the responsibility for the project squarely within his watch.

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With each question I was asked, my impression on the seriousness of how the villagers of Malhiao are taking the covenant only deepened. There was a tour of the mangroves on a makeshift raft later on with some of the village's leaders. It was a really nice and refreshing tour along passages between huge clusters of mangrove trees. But my mind was still on the upturn of the villagers' regard towards their commitment with Seacology since we arrived. I just witnessed their progression from fawn-like tentativeness, to a doe's leap of faith, to a stag's confidence and optimism in the future. All in one day.

It was a good feeling that stayed with me throughout the long bus ride back to Cebu City. And then some.

All pictures from Ferdie Marcelo. To see more of Ferdie's images from his site visit to Malhaio, visit the original post on his blog, Nature Calls. 

 

 

Planting Mangrove Seedlings

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Known for their massive root systems, mangrove trees are one of the planet's most important coastal species. They protect inland areas against floods and erosion and provide habitat to numerous species of fish, birds, mollusks, and other marine life. Around the world, mangroves are disappearing at a disastrous rate; since 1980, 20% of the world's mangroves have been lost. Seacology is working to fight this fatal trend: our project on Nanumea atoll in the Polynesian nation of Tuvalu establishes a two-acre mangrove reserve, with the additional planting of 1,000 mangrove seedlings along the coastline. Seacology Executive Director Duane Silverstein and other Seacology supporters recently visited Nanumea to observe the project's progress and help with the planting of the mangrove seedlings. Our latest Seacology video describes their trip and the details of our Nanumea project:

Water, Water Everywhere...

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Today is Blog Action Day, when bloggers worldwide join together to raise awareness about an important issue. This year's topic is water, and nothing could be more relevant to islands! Even though islands are surrounded by oceans, they are plagued by problems resulting from not enough--or too much--water. 

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Tuvalu - A Nation of Superlatives

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Want to visit the world's least populous nation?  If so, I suggest you pack your sunscreen and head to Tuvalu, whose nine Polynesian atolls are home to 12,373 inhabitants.  Formerly known as the Ellice Islands, Tuvalu achieved independence from England in 1978.  Want to visit a smaller nation?  Only Monaco and nearby Nauru can claim a more diminutive status, as Tuvalu is the world's third smallest nation.  Want to visit a lower lying nation?  Only the Maldives edges out Tuvalu, whose highest elevation is a mere 16 feet above sea level.  It is this latter fact that indirectly led to my recent visit to this very remote island nation. 

You see, Tuvalu is understandably very concerned about the rising oceans due to global warming.  In other parts of the world, this change might impact the types of crops that are grown, how much energy is used, and the introduction of new tropical diseases.  In Tuvalu, rising oceans may submerge the entire nation under water.  As Samuel Johnson said, "The prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully."  Indeed, for Tuvalu the prospect of being drowned does cause a nation to take rising sea levels very seriously.  Unfortunately for Tuvalu, the negative impacts of the rising oceans are already being experienced in terms of stronger storm surges that reach farther inland.  During my recent visit, many village elders described how this is already happening, with areas that never before experienced flooding now regularly underwater during storms.

It is well known that mangrove forests ameliorate the impact of storm surges.  As was seen in the great Southeast Asia tsunami several years ago, villages that kept their mangrove forests intact suffered less damage than those that had cut their mangrove trees down. Consequently, the Tuvalu atoll of Nanumea approached Seacology for support of a win-win project.  Nanumea has a population of 660 people and outside of government employment there are no (as in zero) paying jobs on the island.  Everyone lives off the bounty of the land and sea in a subsistence fashion.  Therefore Nanumea was seeking support for the renovation and expansion of a Woman's Centre where the local women can make traditional handicrafts for sale in the capital city of Funafuti.  In exchange, the people of Nanumea would begin a two acre lagoon based mangrove nursery and reserve, planting over 1,000 mangrove seedlings along the coastline.  Seacology's response was a resounding "YES."

Along with Seacology president Ken Murdock and 42 other guests on Zegrahm Expeditions' exploratory cruise ship the Clipper Odyssey, I recently attended the official opening of the Nanumea project.  As we came in to the lagoon on our zodiacs, we were serenaded in traditional fashion by villagers who came out to greet us on their kayaks.  After receiving flowered headdresses from the wonderful Pula Taofa, coordinator of the Tuvalu National Council of Women (TNCW), and other high ranking village representatives, we walked over to the new Women's Center.  The speeches made by Pula and her colleagues from TNCW were very moving and made it clear that the Women's Center will allow women to earn income from the manufacture of traditional handicrafts and give them not only much needed income but also a sense of independence and accomplishment. It was then time for Ken Murdock and me to cut the ribbon officially opening the new Center (see photo below).  

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Photo credit Ramona Wilson

We then traveled by zodiac rafts to the other side of the lagoon to inspect the mangrove nursery (see photo below) and plant mangrove seedlings. 

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Photo credit Ramona Wilson

 It is very much in the tradition of Seacology to get our hands dirty (in this case literally) and lend a hand to our projects. The photos below show Jerry and Don Zieglar with a mangrove seedling (left), and local women planting mangroves (right).

Don & Jerry Ziegler Nanumea.JPG Local Women2.JPGWith our work completed, it was now time to celebrate.  The village put on an incredible fest featuring pigs and chicken baked in an earth oven.  Afterwards, we were treated to a wonderful performance of singing and dancing. Ken Murdock and I made our way through the 80 villagers singing in a tight knit circle around a large drum and joined the villagers in the drum circle, which was a very moving experience. As a surprise to my fellow passengers, Seacology had arranged to be the first major customer of the Women's Handicraft Center and with our support, the village presented everyone with gifts of beautiful handmade dresses, necklaces and fans.  It was an event that none of us will ever forget.


Photo credits Giovanna Fasanelli

Climate Change in Islands

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Growing up in the Philippines, tornados, hurricanes, and the floods that would follow were a common occurrence in my childhood. In the rainy season (between July to December), it would not be uncommon for low-lying areas of my island (called Panay, in the Western Visayas Region) to have floods as high as four meters. Can you imagine Katrina happening every year? During intense hurricanes, people living in these areas would be in a rush to get everything out of their houses to be taken to higher ground. Anything that could be carried, including refrigerators, TV sets, etc, are immediately taken out. One time, a cousin of mine was in such a mad rush to leave that he forgot his pregnant wife in the bedroom (he came back to get her of course). More recently, people back home have also been complaining to me about the intense heat. When I visited about a year and a half ago, I myself noticed that the temperature was much higher than when I was living there only 5 or 6 years previous.

 

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After three days of sitting out the typhoon during my recent trip to the Philippines, our Philippines Field Representative Ferdie Marcelo and I flew to the beautiful island of Palawan.

philmap.gifAfter overnighting in Roxas, Ferdie and I met with representatives from project partner SIBAT and drove to Barangay Bagong Bayan. This remote village has a true "ridge to reef" ecosystem. With SIBAT's expertise, Seacology is funding the rehabilitation of a micro-hydro power plant. After meeting with community leaders, we viewed the non-functioning powerhouse. There is a nearby ice plant, which when powered will make a dramatic difference to local fisherman who will be able to chill their catches to keep fish fresh longer for marketability. The power plant also has an herb dryer, which when functional will enable community members to dry medicinal herbs to sell.


Bagong Bayan watershed.jpgThe Bangong Bayan watershed (right) is truly beautiful. The source for the microhydro system is above a lovely waterfall. The catchment at the top was not configured to maximize flow, so community members are working on that while they wait for generator parts to arrive. After staying back in Roxas for a night, Ferdie and I traveled to El Nido, on the northern tip of Palawan. I had heard for years about the beauty of this area, and stunning Bacuit Bay with its dramatic limestone islands and turquoise water.

I've been at Seacology for nine years now (I was the first paid employee, beating Executive Director Duane Silverstein by around a week). Each time a board meeting comes and passes, I'm astounded at both how time flies, as well as how we have grown as an organization. At their June 9 meeting, Seacology's board of directors approved seven new projects, bringing our total number of projects to 176. Moreover, a really cool milestone has been reached - Seacology now has projects on 100 islands in 44 countries throughout the world.

Wow.

wasini_kids.jpgFollowing are short descriptions of the projects passed by Seacology's board of directors at their June 9 meeting. You can find full descriptions on our website.

AMERICAN SAMOA, Pago Pago Village, Tutuila Island - Phase 3: Eradicate the dense stands of the destructive Falcataria moluccana tree adjacent to the National Park areas of American Samoa (NPSA). *

Left: Children on the mangrove walkway, Wasini Island, Kenya.

In the last few weeks we have had quite a few updates from Seacology's field representatives and project contacts on islands throughout the world. Here are a couple of updates from projects in Indonesia and India.

Kabilol Village footpath.JPGIn Indonesia, Seacology field representative Arnaz Mehta notes that Seacology's project in Waigeo, Raja Ampat, is moving along smoothly. In exchange for a nine village agreement to establish a 123,553-acre marine protected area within the Mayalibit Bay, Seacology is providing a series of infrastructure improvements including constructing public washrooms, walking paths, and solar cell electricity for lighting so that children can study in the evening.

One of Ellen's recent blog entries, containing a photo of a Balinese dancer that hangs in our office, inspired me to photograph more of our incredible office artwork to share. I decided to start with the masks (my favorites), which have hung in a spot advantageous for me to view ever since I started working for Seacology - both at our old office and at the new.

OfficeArt04.jpgThis mask is a traditional Kolam (folk theatre) mask from Sri Lanka. Seacology's work in Sri Lanka has focused on conserving and protecting mangrove forests. We have helped fund the construction of a mangrove resource center, including a store selling local handicrafts to help provide a livelihood for young women, and have helped to plant thousands of mangrove seedlings around Kiralakele, in the Hambantota district of southern Sri Lanka.

Lisa's post from last week, "Island News from Fiji and Palau," brought me back to my trip to Micronesia in July. Accompanied by our Micronesia Field Representative Simon Ellis, I traveled to visit Seacology projects on Kosrae, Chuuk, Yap and Palau. Here's an excerpt from my report regarding Palau:

"The staff of the Palau Conservation Society kept us quite busy, with visits to the new company capitol on Babeldaob, a very impressive complex along the new Compact Road. The new road and the capitol will very much open Babeldaob to resettlement from Koror as well as new development pressures. We visited the Melekeok Bai (ceremonial house), walked an ancient stone path and attended the opening of a new open-air market near the capitol, where we met with the former president of Palau as well as the chief of Melekeok State (where Lake Ngardok is located).