Rebirth of a mangrove forest
As climate change intensifies cyclones in the Philippines, an Oxfam partner is helping local fisherfolk revive a forest that lives and livelihoods depend on.
The bleached remains of ancient mangroves dot the coastal landscape of Eastern Samar. They are monuments to a battle they both lost and won. The battle has a name: Haiyan, the super typhoon that struck the Philippines in 2013. What these trees lost was their lives, but by buffering the coast from the storm’s ferocious winds and waves, the protection they provided people and the environment is incalculable.
On an island in Lawaan near the hamlet of Maslog, the mangrove forest is green again, with new growth crowding around the standing deadwood. This isn’t just the work of nature; a local organization—the Maslog Coconut Farmers and Fishermen Association, or MCFFA—has taken on the project of protecting and restoring these woods.
“When there are calamities like typhoons, the mangroves are the number one protection for the communities, because they block tsunamis and storm surges,” says Juditho Canonigo, an association member.
And protect this community they did: despite Haiyan’s extraordinary force, everyone in Maslog survived the storm.
So, since 2015, the association has planted more than 20,000 mangrove seedlings, aided in recent years by Oxfam and its local partner PRRM (the Philippines Rural Reconstruction Movement). The seeds are harvested from the surviving trees; Oxfam-PRRM have provided funds for bamboo walkways that enable people to navigate the island at high tide. We’ve also offered fishing boats and accident insurance, and soon we will distribute electronic cards that will enable association members to easily bank their savings and receive cash aid when the next disaster strikes.
The tangled forest is critical to this fishing community’s economic survival. “Mangroves serve as a nursery for the fish before they go out to sea,” says member Lolita Catalogo.
Growing mangrove seedlings produces a modest income, as other communities need them to shore up their own forests. But PRRM and the association are hatching another plan, as well: make this island a destination for ecotourists—for the people who want view local monkeys, birds, and sea life up close.
Climate change—and the likelihood that more catastrophic storms like Haiyan are in the cards—is a looming threat and a current reality.
“In the last ten years, the typhoons have become stronger. I was born 60 years ago, and I never experienced a typhoon like Yolanda” says Pedro Calumpiano, president of the association, referring to Haiyan by its local name. “As time goes by, climate change will worsen, and those who will be most affected are our children.”
Already, it has made this impoverished community poorer.
“Before Yolanda, the fish were nearby. It only took one liter of gas to reach them,” says member Julita Daep. “Now it takes five liters.” That alone has driven some fishing families out of business, but there’s hope that nursing the fish nursery back to health will make a difference.
Meanwhile, like resilient communities everywhere, the association members are experts at making the most of what they have.
“We enjoy planting mangroves together,” says one woman. “It relieves stress and gives us a break from our work at home.” Others chime in. “When we’re working together, we talk and laugh. We joke around and sing. We share our problems.” And as the mangrove forest begins to thrive again, Catologo says, “The sight of the monkeys and birds gives me joy.”