Recently in Philippines 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. 

 

 

Hottest of the Hotspots

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Worldwide, scientists have identified ecological "hotspots," or regions with significant biodiversity that are facing dire threats from humans. With their abundance of unique plants and animals, islands are often numbered about the planet's hotspots, but now one set of islands is calling itself "the hottest of the hotspots."  The Philippines, an archipelago in Southeast Asia containing over 7,000 islands, is one of the world's most diverse places, but because of human activity, the rate of species is extinction is about 1,000 times the natural rate, said Undersecretary Demetrio Ignacio of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

In the Philippines, as in many islands, the primary threat is from habitat loss due to deforestation and coral reef destruction. It is estimated that less than six percent of the Philippines' original forests remain intact, along with only five percent of its marine habitats, and these practices continue to destroy the remaining environments. At least on land, the country is seeking to stem this tide of biodiversity loss, with reforestation programs. But the country lacks cannot afford to adequately protect all its marine and coastal areas from destruction, and threats to both forest and coral reefs continue to multiply.


ARKive species - Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) ARKive species - Balabac mouse deer (Tragulus nigricans)   
Above, two of the Philippines' many endangered species: the Philippine Eagle and the Balabac Mouse-Deer.

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 discusses the threat of slash-and-burn farming on the country's Palawan Island.

Often called the Philippines' last ecological frontier, Palawan's rich biodiversity is very impressive but also so very fragile. Yet for the month of April this year alone, in northern Palawan alone, the burning of swathes of mountain slopes was a near daily occurrence. Plumes of smoke could be seen from surrounding mountains signaling slash and burn activity. It was as if a concerted effort to destroy the island's capacity to support life is being waged.

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Within the animal kingdom, sharks are known for their sharp teeth, and their increasingly threatened conservation status due to the popularity of shark fin soup. But now, a study suggests that sharks are also unique for the importance they place on good hygiene and healthcare!

Scientists at Bangor University in Wales have observed thresher sharks (seen in image below) visiting shallow coral reef ecosystems near the Philippines for what appear to be full-body cleanings. Upon arriving at the reef, the sharks slow down and swim in a small circle, apparently to attract the cleaner wrasse, a small fish with excellent shark-grooming skills.

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One scientist describes the process as "a bit like a surgery...The sharks come in with cuts and scrapes where they might have scabs and these are treated by the cleaner wrasse, which remove dead tissue from the wound area and any parasites from the skin." The sharks remain for their cleaning for up to 45 minutes, swimming in small circles near the reef.

This shark medical care is just another example of the often surprising interactions between different species within an ecosystem. Unfortunately, with threats to sharks on the rise, sometimes a trip to the cleaner wrasse may have a tragic ending. The shallow reefs where these cleanings take place are often shared by fishermen, who either hunt the sharks (or, more brutally, remove only their fins), or use dynamite or hooks on other marine species, inadvertently killing the sharks along with them. These practices, along with irresponsible tourists who hurt the reefs while observing the sharks, also cause immense harm to the cleaner wrasse fish and all other species who depend on the coral reef.

Seacology has many projects that work to protect the sharks, fish, and other wildlife in the coral reefs of the Philippines and other areas around the world.

Image courtesy of NOAA 

Seacology Executive Director Duane Silverstein recently joined Seacology supporters on a dive trip in the Philippines. In addition to exploring the Philippines' vibrant coral reefs, they visited a Seacology project on Palawan Island, where Seacology worked with the El Nido Foundation, a local NGO, to set aside 1,317 acres of coral reef and 2,580 acres of mangrove forest. Seacology provided funds for guardhouses, patrol boats, marker buoys, and signs for the new reserve, as well as new equipment for their cashew processing industry, a sustainable alternative livelihood to fishing in the protected area. Learn more about our project on Palawan and recent Philippines expedition in our new video: 


Seacology's field representatives, which act as the Seacology's ambassadors in some of the most remote islands of the world, are an extremely important part of what makes our work so effective. Ferdie Marcelo, who represents Seacology in the Philippines, maintains a lively blog about his adventures. His latest post (below) describes one of Seacology's newest projects--providing a small community called Sitio Lubo with a micro-hydro power generator in support of the protection of 6,178 acres of watershed forest.  But this post only scratches the surface of Ferdie's amazing experiences working with Seacology. Be sure to check out Ferdie's other blog posts on his website.


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Sitio Lubo is at a cusp. Economic activity is on the upswing, but  infrastructure support is not keeping up. Farms are yielding sacks and sacks of corn and peanuts, but the far upland community is not being served by the power grid running through the Municipality of Lake Sebu, water is tapped from the many waterfalls through makeshift  flexible hoses, and the roads are so bad that mud is 3 to 4 feet deep in many sections. On one hand, coal mining companies have offered to fix the roads, provide electricity and even scholarship programs, in  exchange for rights to extract coal from the area. On the other, Seacology and its partners, Yamog, MISEREOR, and AMORE have offered to provide renewable energy through micro-hydro power in exchange for the community's commitment to protect their watershed. The community chose renewable energy.

Barangay Ned is the biggest barangay in the Municipality of Lake Sebu. 
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With a total area of 21,246.27 hectares, it is likely also the biggest barangay in Mindanao, if not the whole country, in  terms of land area. Sitio Lubo, one of some 30 sitios in Barangay  Ned, has a total area of 7,345 hectares, 2,500 hectares of which is part of the Kabulnan Watershed Forest Reserve. The climate is cool, a consequence of the 900 meter average elevation.

We arrived in the village on September 10, 2010 at about 3:30 pm  after an hour and a half ride on a pick-up truck, which took us from the General Santos City airport to the Municipality of Sto. Nino, and another 4-hour ride on a motorcycle up the southern Tiruray Highlands after a quick early lunch. We were supposed to have met with the community leaders at about 5:00 pm, but the meeting was preempted by an unscheduled PTA assembly at the Lubo High School on Responsible Parenthood, precipitated by an incidence of teenage pregnancy. We had to reschedule the following  day. Just as well. Ridingtandem on a motorcycle as it sloshed for hours uphill through thick mud and loose rock took a lot more from me than I expected. I was tired.

Sitio Lubo residents  generally rely on kerosene for lighting and fuel wood for cooking. A few households lease solar power home systems from a cooperative for P220 a month - pretty steep considering one unit can only power 3-4 lightbulbs per night. Still fewer households have small 3-kilowatt gas-fed generators, which provide enough power for several lights, a television set, and a satellite dish antenna. Gil Bopas, who graciously fed us and put us up for the night, is one of the latter.

Owners of a corn farm, corn mill and a sari-sari store, Gil Bopas and  his wife Josephine, who teaches at the Lubo High School, are one of the more affluent members of the community. But  they too are looking forward to the promise of clean energy from the micro-hydro because it would mean 24-hour electricity for their appliances without having to buy fuel all the way from municipal centers like Sto. Nino. There are simply no gas stations in these mountains.

Lubo High School itself owes much of its facilities from the local PTA. Its 12 computers were provided by the PTA, and the generator that powers them was also solicited from the PTA. Internet connection and fuel for the generator? Monthly PTA dues. In a sense, the community seems to have been left to fend for themselves, but it also seems that they are doing a pretty decent job at coping as well.


Ferdie Visits Cabilao Island

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Seacology's group of intrepid field representatives are an important part of what makes our work so effective. Our field representatives act as Seacology's arms and legs, working with communities on some of the world's most remote islands in regions around the world.  Ferdie Marcelo, who represents Seacology in the Philippines, maintains a lively blog about his adventures. His latest post describes one of Seacology's newest projects--renovating an historic lighthouse in exchange for the creation of a coral reef and marine protected area on the Philippines' Cabilao Island. To read about Ferdie's trip to Cabilao, visit his blog here.

Below, Ferdie prepares to explore Cabilao's reefs. 

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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.

Report from the Philippines

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I recently returned from the Philippines, where I visited a total of five Seacology projects with our Philippines Field Representative Ferdie Marcelo.  Sadly, we missed one site visit - to the ram pump project and forest protection project at the Municipality of Murcia, Negros Occidental.  This was due to Typhoon Fengshun, which started as a tropical depression east of the islands then intensified.  It was the first time I had experienced the power of these storms that batter the Philippines so frequently.  My hotel in Manila never lost power, and it was strange to see coverage on cable TV of the wildfires ravaging parts of California while the Philippines was hit so hard by high winds and relentless rains. 

Our first site visit was to the community of San Pedro, on Biri Island in Samar Province.  Seacology has funded the construction of a community-managed medical dispensary in exchange for a 25-acre marine reserve, to be protected for a duration of 20 years. 

The community is accessible only by boat, and we we fortunate to visit during the barangay (community) fiesta.  The small dispensary is situated on the barangay's plaza, right next to the day care.  The structure is nearly complete; wiring will be completed soon. 

san_pedro.jpgShown in the photo is Jhoanne Culo of our local partner project organization Center for Empowerment and Resource Development, Inc. (second from left) and Seacology Philippines Field Representative Ferdie Marcelo (third from left), flanked by two local women who will serve as health care workers once the dispensary opens.  The community is respecting the marine protected area, where we snorkeled to observe the regenerating marine life.

Our second site visit was to Barangay Manamoc, Northern Palawan.  This village has a population of 1,900.  With the assistance of Seacology Germany, Seacology has funded a solar energy system to provide power to the community's schools, barangay hall and medical clinic in exchange for an agreement to protect a 267-acre marine area.