by Ma. Czarinna de Cadiz 

In the heart of Eastern Visayas, a world of natural wonders unfolds, from lush forests and vibrant coral reefs to hidden woodlands and thriving seagrass beds, each hosting a diverse shade of life.  

Among these ecosystems, the widespread mangrove forests stand out as unsung heroes, critical not just to the environment but to the very survival of local communities. 

The region is one of the most calamity-prone areas in the country, attributed to its geographical location. However, Eastern Visayas also benefits from the shoreline protection against natural hazards such as typhoons, storm surges, coastal erosion, and sea level rise that mangrove forests provide.

Recent studies have shown that mangrove forests also play an important role in carbon sequestration. It has been established that mangroves have the highest carbon density among all terrestrial ecosystems and can sequester carbon at a rate two to four times higher than mature tropical forests. The term “blue ecosystem” encompasses habitats that occupy a relatively small area of the global ocean but are major contributors to organic carbon burial.

In 2010, the Eastern Visayas region was home to 28,200 hectares of mangrove forests, dominated by species like Pagatpat, Bakhaw, Saging-saging, and Piapi. Researchers continue to discover new mangrove species in uncharted territories.

However, the region’s vulnerability to natural and anthropogenic hazards has resulted in a massive decrease in the total area covered by mangroves. The region’s most prominent disturbance to the mangroves was the onslaught of Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, which led to a reported total loss of 8,800 hectares based on a 2015 assessment. Other slow-onset events, such as sea level rise, have been identified as significant contributors to mangrove mortality and decline in the region,  as well as the expansion of human settlements in protected areas.

The loss of mangroves poses a significant threat not only to the communities that directly benefit from their ecological functions but also to global climate change mitigation efforts. Recognized for its carbon sink properties or the ability to absorb more carbon from the atmosphere that it releases, the destruction and loss of mangroves lead to the release of stored carbon. The results of a recent study show that between 2000 and 2015, up to 122 million tons of carbon were released globally due to a drastic decrease in mangrove forests.

In Eastern Visayas, extensive mangrove rehabilitation immediately started after the onslaught of Super Typhoon Haiyan, mostly focused on a quota-based replanting of new mangrove species in the area. However, most implemented projects have been deemed as inefficient and unsustainable. As recalled by a local People’s Organization representative in Eastern Samar, although a lot of replanting activities were conducted, only a few mangrove seedlings thrived. Some of these replanting activities even led to the destruction of seagrass beds in the barangay.

It became evident that a one-dimensional, top-down approach to mangrove conservation was ineffective. Recent arguments have emphasized the need to protect and conserve old-growth mangroves instead of introducing new species in dense areas.

Furthermore, the wealth of local and indigenous knowledge remained untapped, and the duplication of efforts among stakeholders hindered coordinated action for mangrove protection.  

With the Multi-Actor Partnerships towards Enhanced Local Climate Action (MAP-ELCA), supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the objective is to address these gaps and strengthen locally led mangrove rehabilitation and protection efforts, especially in the Samar and Eastern Samar provinces.

ICSC has collaborated with the Guiuan Development Foundation, Inc. in conducting a baseline carbon stock inventory of selected mangrove forests in the region. The results of the inventory will then determine activities for the conservation of the vital mangrove forests of Eastern Visayas, update local climate change adaptation strategies, and inform the development of sustainable conservation-compatible livelihood, in partnership with the local communities.

Editor’s Note: Czarinna is the Community Development Officer of ICSC, who is based in Tacloban City. This story was produced to feature community experiences as part of ICSC’s Multi-Actor Partnership Towards Enhanced Local Climate Action (MAP-ELCA) project, which aims to champion successful local climate action and biodiversity protection cases through multi-sectoral collaboration in Paranas, Samar; Guiuan, Eastern Samar; and Salcedo, Eastern Samar.

MAP-ELCA is a three-year project under Investing in Sustainability and Partnership for Inclusive Growth and Regenerative Ecosystems (INSPIRE), which is implemented by the Gerry Roxas Foundation (GRF) and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

Featured photo by Nart Trance Macalinga/Guiuan Development Foundation Inc.