Housing the largest contiguous mangrove forest cover in the Philippines, with approximately 1,900 fishing households, the Municipality of Del Carmen depends on its mangrove for livelihood. Covering 27 kilometers in length and at least 500 meters in width, the mangrove block is the habitat of various species especially the endangered Philippine saltwater crocodile as well as the Philippine Cockatoo. However, due to the heavy reliance on these marine resources, there was rampant mangrove cutting, gleaning and dynamite fishing that threatened to endanger the mangrove ecosystem.
The Municipality of Del Carmen launched Siargao It Up! The Del Carmen Mangrove Management Program in 2013 in the hope to transform mangrove cutters into fisherfolk, and illegal fishers into boat guides in order to preserve the mangrove forest, and at the same time maximize its tourism potential. The program partnered with various organizations and the private sector in the operationalization of the program which includes capacity building activities, community organizing, educational advocacy campaigns, and funding for livelihood innovations.
A Mangrove Management Plan was formulated with the participation of various stakeholders to systematically implement activities that will address mangrove cutting and illegal fishing. The plan was also science-based as the municipality partnered with scientists to effectively preserve the mangrove forest. Another highlight of the plan was the monitoring and evaluation mechanism set in place to measure the success of the various activities.
Leading to its inception in 2013, the municipality and various organizations in 2012 conducted numerous information, education, and communication (IEC) campaign activities, using various media including film to inform people of the hazards of mangrove cutting and illegal fishing as well as its long-term impact to the livelihood of the communities. To complement these awareness-raising activities, continuous organizing and training of people’s organizations (POs) on alternative sources of livelihood were conducted in the nearby mangrove and coastal areas.
Through its partnership with people’s organizations, the municipality conducted regular mangrove planting and rehabilitation in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). The program also developed innovative approaches to mangrove rehabilitation such as the use of mangrove propagules with coconut husks. It was found that the mangrove had a 90% survival rate with the coconut husks instead of polyethylene plastic bag and had a better and stable root system. A nursery was established for a stable supply of mangrove propagules to support the rehabilitation program. The use of this simple innovative technology resulted in an average survival rate of 80% per area planted. Bantay Dagat activities also led to a 200% fish stock increase.
The program also paved the way for the development of the community-based mangrove tours that provided alternative livelihood to 248 beneficiaries, who are either illegal mangrove cutters and fisherfolk and those affected by commercial fishing. Mangrove eco-guides were also trained in 2016 with the support of Shore It Up and MPIC Foundation for them to be DOT certificate holders. A Mangrove Protection Information Center (MPIC) was established to serve as the tourism receiving center or the jump off point for the mangrove forest tourism tours where educational and art installations were placed about the mangrove forest, its importance and preservation.
In addition, plastic paddle boats were provided to the illegal mangrove cutters with less production cost. These boats can easily be maneuvered in waterways because they are lightweight. They have cheaper materials that can be sourced out locally and relatively with lower cost. Its flexibility and elasticity allow boat makers to develop a more complex boat design which is more appropriate to the target fishing grounds.
The various initiatives under the program led to the drastic reduction of illegal activities, 95% threat reduction of mangrove cutting as well as 90% decrease in illegal fishing based on a report of Bantay Dagat from 2014-2018. Household family income rose from PhP4,000- 5,000 in 2014 to PhP8,000-10,000 in 2018. Through the success of the program, the Municipality of Del Carmen received several key recognitions such as DILG Seal of Good Local Governance for 2016, 2017, and 2018; GGGI Climate Champion for Mangrove Management for 2015; and DOT/ATOP 2nd Best Tourism Event of Pearl Awards in 2014.