Mangroves of Quezon, on Busuanga Island in the province of Palawan, Though nominally protected since 1981, Palawan’s mangroves have suffered from deforestation. Image credit: Courtesy of Community Centered Conservation (C3) Philippines

Indigenous Filipino women lead the effort in restoring mangroves

Vulnerable to the effects of climate change, a band of Indigenous Filipino women replant mangrove trees to protect their homes and sequester carbon.

The effects of climate change are disproportionately felt. Those most vulnerable are women, 80% of whom will be displaced by global temperature rise, and those living in island nations like the Philippines. With both these factors in mind, Indigenous Filipino women from the village of Quezon have banded together to replant mangrove trees to protect their homes and further offset global emissions.

The community also helped protect mangroves with the passage of an ordinance banning mangrove forest clearing, and the mobilization of Indigenous men and women as volunteer coastal guards who enforce the policy. Image credit: Courtesy of Community Centered Conservation (C3) Philippines

Quezon is located on the island of Busuanga, in the western province of Palawan. Under the 1981 Presidential Proclamation, this entire region is officially designated as a mangrove protection zone, the Palawan Mangrove Swamp Forest Reserve (PMSFR). However, much of the ecosystem is severely degraded due to illegal logging. Data shows Palawan’s mangrove forest cover decreased from 63,532 hectares to 59,421 hectares from 2010 to 2015.

When Typhoon Haiyan hit the island in 2013, the mangrove loss led to devastation. With no natural barrier, many wooden fishing boats and thatch-roofed houses were destroyed. This resulted in a loss of income and left many without homes, including village leader Annabel Dela Cruz. It was then she and her community recognized the importance of the mangroves.

As global temperatures rise, so do sea levels and the occurrence of severe weather events. Mangrove forests protect coastal areas and communities by buffering the impacts of storm surge and tsunamis. The energy of waves is reduced by the massive root system of these semi-submerged trees. They also counteract erosion. Rather than the tide pulling soil out to sea, sediments are deposited when the water comes in, allowing the environment to stabilize.

Busuanga’s Indigenous women have volunteered as citizen scientists, involved in particular in the monthly monitoring of seedling growth and the replacement of mangroves afflicted by parasite barnacles that reduce their root growth. Image credit: Courtesy of Community Centered Conservation (C3) Philippines

Mangroves are also an essential source of blue carbon. This is a process of carbon sequestration by the world's marine ecosystems. Algae, seagrasses, mangroves, salt marshes, and other aquatic plants pull CO2 from the atmosphere and bury the organic matter in the soil. These ecosystems are so effective, they store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests, making their conservation and protection a natural climate change solution.

For Dela Cruz other Indigenous women in her community, keeping their mangrove forest healthy is now seen as a matter of survival. Partnering with the nonprofit organization, Community Centered Conservation (C3) Philippines, these women have spearheaded a restoration program. Volunteering as citizen scientists, they replant mangroves, monitor seedling growth, and replace trees afflicted by parasite barnacles that reduce their root growth. Since 2014, they’ve planted 158,500 mangrove seedlings on 159 hectares of land with an 80% survival rate.

Currently, there is a proposed National Mangrove Forests Protection and Preservation Act, as well as the more extensive National Wetlands Conservation Act, both awaiting approval by the Filipino government. Dela Cruz and her team aren’t certain when and whether these policies might pass, but they do know they will keep planting mangroves to protect themselves and the planet. Providing yet another example of why women are key to solving the climate crisis and how empowering them can lead to a better environment for us all.