Mangrove conservation and MPA management in the Philippines

by ZSL on

Mangrove forests are one of the most severely threatened and undervalued ecosystems in the world, and yet, they play such an important role for coastal communities. 

ZSL is working to protect the remaining mangroves and restore forests in the Philippines, which is both a centre of marine biodiversity and a global hotspot for marine biodiversity loss. It’s also where over 50% of mangroves have been lost. 

Mangrove forest at low tide, Philippines
Mangrove forest at low tide in the Philippines

We’re taking a new approach by integrating mangroves into marine protected areas (MPAs). The Philippines is internationally recognised for its strong tradition of developing community-based MPAs. Currently, there are about 1,100 MPAs across the archipelago, putting around 0.5% of municipal waters in some level of protection. 

Despite the number though, the total area under protection still falls well short of the legislated 15%. 

The Darwin Initiative has provided important funding for ZSL-Philippines to successfully integrate coastal greenbelts into MPAs to increase their size and reduce vulnerability to natural disasters.  

Depending on the quality of enforcement, benefits of marine conservation begin to be seen between 5-10 years, which unfortunately is beyond the typical funding cycles of 3-4 years. Complete reliance on short-term donor resources and phase out of support before assisted MPAs approach full maturity can undermine gains achieved with donor resources.  

The Net-Works business model is proof that there is an innovative approach for funding conservation – one that breaks away from high dependence on conventional funding sources. Net-Works tackles the growing environmental problem of discarded fishing nets in some of the world’s poorest coastal communities, giving locals the opportunity to sell waste fishing nets into a global supply chain.

The Darwin Initiative has been instrumental in providing ZSL with a new grant to establish a generation of community-based MPAs with scale (with at least 200 ha. no-take zone), more resilience with the integration of mangroves, seagrass beds, and other important habitat types, and with access to financing mechanisms that can help assure sustainable funding for effective MPA management.

The Net-Works business model will be diversified and expanded at a scale that can generate sufficient income to support specialised ZSL teams to continue delivering essential conservation and social enterprise development services. 

Net-works project in action
A Net-Works project in action

Production systems and supply chains for ecologically-produced product lines (e.g. seaweeds) will be developed and maintained, setting up gateways for entry of more corporations that are promoting inclusive and restorative business principles. 

Another pioneering component of the new project is the development of two community-managed mangrove forests into tradable blue carbon products. This is a key strategy to diversify the funding windows to support MPAs in the long-term and provide local communities with an opportunity for a financial return on their investment in mangrove management. 

A suite of incentive schemes will be set-up to inspire individual and group support and, more importantly, promote equitable access to benefits.  For instance, preferential fishing rights in buffer zones and demarcated fishing areas around MPAs will be arranged for fishers and their associations in exchange for their actual involvement in MPA enforcement. Fishing families who invest extra time in guarding the MPAs will be given more access (e.g. seaweed farming areas) to legally established mariculture areas. 

In addition, access to supply chains can be guaranteed to partner communities when they are consistently meeting the standards for effective MPA management, coastal clean-up, or ecological seaweed farming.

This project is in the early implementation stage in 17 communities in three critical bay-scapes in Panay Island, central Philippines. 

Learn more about how we're rehabilitating mangroves in the Philippines 

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