Rona Joy Loma, Supervising Biologist, ZSL Philippines
Mangroves play a critical role in climate change mitigation, storing huge amounts of carbon dioxide. They also protect the coastline from erosion and provide important nursery grounds for fish as well as food, shelter and construction materials for local communities. So it's important to celebrate them this International Mangrove Action Day (26 July 2015).
I’ve been with ZSL since 2009 as a Project Coordinator for the four year Community-based Mangrove Rehabilitation Project (CMRP) based in Iloilo City, Philippines. When I first joined I mainly took care of finance, operations and report preparations for funding donors. But then I got my first experience of fieldwork, during mangrove nursery, planting and maintenance work in an abandoned fishpond in Nabitasan, Leganes, Iloilo.
Since then I’ve embraced the world of mud and the early morning work to catch the lowest tide of the day.
Sowing the seeds of recovery
Our team, headed by top mangrove scientist, Dr. Jurgenne Primavera, ultimately aims to rehabilitate the once vast mangrove areas that provided coastal protection, food and livelihood to coastal communities.
We’ve faced successes and failures during the project, but all have helped us learn valuable lessons. By engaging with communities and other groups we’ve managed to plant around 100,000 seedlings, rehabilitating more than 56 hectares of abandoned fishponds, and more than 51 hectares of seafront areas.
Mangroves have in the past suffered from mismanagement such as inappropriate species being planted, unsuitable planting sites and improper planting methods.
Led by Dr. Primavera with her years of research and field experience, my team developed The Manual on Community-based Mangrove Rehabilitation, simple guidelines that will help communities and other stakeholders to successfully rehabilitate their mangrove areas.
As awareness of the critical role of mangroves in mitigating climate change grew, and a Philippines’ National Greening Program was implemented, we wanted to spread our new guidelines even further, and developed the first Mangrove Training Course with the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center Aquaculture Department.
Participants came from academic institutions, NGOs and government agencies from the Philippines, Vietnam and Micronesia. The course was so successful we went on to run them for the Environmental Leadership and Training Initiative of Yale University and the Deutsch Gesselschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit.
I was already working as biologist then, a transformation from office work to field work – now interacting with communities and sharing the world of mud and mangroves to a wider audience in training sessions like the first one I attended.
Rebuilding the coasts of the Philippines
In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) hit the Philippines, destroying properties, devastating the coasts, leaving millions homeless, and taking around 10,000 lives.
As the country struggled to rehabilitate damaged infrastructures, national government agencies and international and local organizations have also seen the need for immediate restoration of mangroves and beach forests and to establish the legally mandated greenbelts along the coastlines. The fact we had already developed rehabilitation protocols and run three major Mangrove Training Courses meant we were much better equipped to respond to this need.
We’re constantly looking to improve mangrove management, and to date ZSL Philippines has conducted 21 training sessions with 600 graduates. We’ve achieved even more than we expected. From a project with intentions of rehabilitating mangroves in a few partner areas, to training a broader community.
It has been 6 years since I trained and here I am now sharing what I have learned and inspiring hundreds of mangrove workers and enthusiasts. I am proud to say that in my own small way I am one of those who brought change not only for the present but for my daughter’s future.
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