Recently in Karen 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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Seacology Program Manager Karen Peterson recently returned from a trip to Indonesia, where she traveled with our Indonesia Field Representative Arnaz Mehta and visited Seacology projects. One of their site visits was on the island of Java, where Seacology has funded a multi-purpose community building in support of the replanting of 72 acres and protecting a total of 267 acres of no-take rainforest. Below is Karen's account of her visit.
On October 24, Arnaz and I flew to Bandung, Java, overnighted, then were met at the hotel by Mandalemekar project coordinator Irman Meilandi. We then drove four hours to the village. Though the road approaching the village was not of the same level of ruggedness as what we had experienced on Flores Island a few days earlier, rain has made access into and out of Mandalamekar challenging. Fortunately, the roads were in decent shape for our arrival.
Right, Karen, Arnaz, and Mandalamekar villagers at their local waterfall.
Though Karla wrote about a great blog entry about climate change a few months back, the topic is on my mind and in the news. Yesterday, the Pacific Islands Forum convened in Cairns, Australia. This article details how leaders of seven small island nations met in advance of the forum to express their concerns over the immediate threats related to climate change, and to urge leaders of developed nations to take an aggressive stance in slashing greenhouse emissions.
I recently compiled a list of the threats that small islands face due to climate change. The threats range from the obvious - coastal inundation, intrusion of salt water into fresh water drinking supplies and crops, extreme weather events - to the less obvious, yet still potentially devastating effects - damaged crops and unpredictable harvest rates, decline in fish populations due to coral bleaching and mangrove loss, increase in vector-borne diseases such as dengue and malaria, economic insecurity and decreased tourism revenue, and cultural tensions as communities are forced to relocate. On a visit to Seacology projects in Yap, Micronesia in 2007, local leaders told me of their worries regarding the likely migration of communities from an outer atoll to the main island, where resources are already stretched. While in Vanuatu in June 2009, residents spoke of disappeared coastal landmarks and boundaries, inundated by sea water.
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.
After 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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
Following 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.
I work with our field representatives to help identify good island projects around the world; I reign over our ever-expanding photo library; I create PowerPoint presentations for staff to show to a wide variety of audiences; I am responsible for editing and producing Seacology's annual report and newsletters; and I also maintain our computer network.
One additional duty is to monitor our general email account, firstname.lastname@example.org. While our spam-blocker catches the vast array of messages touting deals on OEM software, events at Las Vegas nightclubs, and messages from people who have lost their loved ones in tragic accidents and need a US bank account to hold vast sums of money, we get a number of very interesting inquiries and questions.
This time around, our board of directors approved 10 new projects. I am especially excited that Seacology is expanding into a new region by funding a project in the Red Sea.
Following are short descriptions of the projects passed by Seacology's board of directors at their January 21 meeting. You can find full descriptions on our website.
Above left: Seacology is assisting Egypt's Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Organization in the installation of 25 mooring buoys around the islands of Wadi El Gemal National Park, Red Sea. (Photo credit: HEPCA.)
"Dollar for dollar, pound for pound, Seacology gets more output than any conservation group that I've seen. They're not giving money away, they're not making grants, they're making deals."
These signs act as an important reminder to the communities that the needed infrastructure we provide is not a handout; it is part of a trade-off in recognition of a commitment to conservation of their precious natural resources.
I thought I'd post photos of some of these signs.
The sign at left is on one of 11 schools in Madagascar's Mangoro region that received Seacology-funded repairs in exchange for community agreements to protect the last remaining habitat of the Mangoro Flying Fox. Due to hunting for bushmeat, uncontrolled fires and logging, just a few pockets of forest remain as roosts for these large bats.
Seacology is also funding repairs to local municipal offices, and an educational component, with a conservation art competition scheduled to begin in early 2008. The winning artists will be awarded by members of the Seacology 2008 expedition to Madagascar and South Africa. Information on this trip can be found here. Click here for more information regarding the Mangoro project.
It's that time again. Twice a year, I check my email even more obsessively than usual, awaiting the new batch of potential projects to be considered for funding by Seacology's Board of Directors.
Seacology's process of identifying good projects relies largely on our great part-time field representatives. At left is one of our field representatives, Ferdie Marcelo of the Philippines, pictured cutting the ribbon to a new Seacology-funded multi-purpose building in Barangay Rizal, Cuyo Island, Northeastern Palawan. The field reps act as our "eyes and ears" on the ground in the regions where they live. Their knowledge of local conservation issues, community activities, other nonprofits and funding sources, and belief in Seacology's model are invaluable. In several cases, our field representatives have to straddle two worlds: in their home region, communication can be difficult, and travel to remote areas is challenging and unpredictable. By working for Seacology, they also understand the importance of deadlines and prompt responses to requests for information.