The Zoological Society of London (ZSL), a leading international scientific, conservation and educational charity, has been helping communities in the Philippines get back on their feet since super typhoon Haiyan, the strongest typhoon on record, hit the country one year ago. Through a combination of disaster relief and an investment in conservation training for recovery, ZSL has been enabling communities to become more resilient to natural disasters by assisting with the replanting of mangrove forests.
Mangrove forests are well-known to be nature’s own mechanism for coastal protection. For instance planting a 50-100m greenbelt of mangroves and beach forest trees can prevent damage from storm surges, strong winds and tsunamis, and mitigate the effects of climate change.
ZSL has a unique set of conservation, development and research expertise spanning nearly two decades in the Philippines. It has pioneered mangrove and beach forest nurseries nurturing ‘mother trees’ around the Visayas, an area rich in biodiversity but with high levels of poverty. These trees can be used to provide seeds and wildings to regenerate coastal greenbelts. ZSL has pioneered science-based methods that communities are effectively implementing to protect and restore their mangrove forests.
Following typhoon Haiyan, ZSL mobilised a rapid response team with universities and NGOs in the region to assess the status of mangrove damage after the typhoon hit the Philippines. Demonstrating the resilience of these forests and their role in coastal protection, our data show that less than 5% of mangroves were damaged by the typhoon and most of these are now recovering.
At the same time, and with wide international support, ZSL was able to mobilise a disaster relief response for the remote coastal communities. We have supported thousands of households in impacted areas of northern Panay and Cebu by rebuilding their lives and livelihoods. We helped reinstall oyster farms and mangrove nurseries destroyed by the typhoon and also worked with humanitarian agencies, such as Oxfam GB, to integrate environmental recovery as part of their disaster relief efforts. And we provided local communities in Bantayan Island with training and support to clean debris from mangroves and to establish mangroves and beach forest nurseries. These nurseries, built by the local people in response to the devastation, provide a strong symbol of resilience and of the recovery of these communities as part of ZSL’s efforts to restore mangrove forests in the Philippines.
Dr Heather Koldewey, Head of Global Conservation Programmes at ZSL, explains: “Typhoon Haiyan was an important warning about the urgency of building ecological and social resilience in coastal communities. It quickly turned ZSL’s community-based conservation activities into disaster relief response. With the ever-increasing frequency and severity of such events in the context of climate change, we must create more innovative and proactive responses that integrate environmental protection and rehabilitation with human need.”