Bringing back the sparkle to Siargao’s shores

(The Philippine Star) - March 19, 2016 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Mang Jun gingerly picks up a giant mud crab as it races across the sand in Del Carmen, Siargao and hands it over to a buyer, who looks at the huge crab and signals he will buy everything. Mang Jun smiles as the buyer hands over the money.  Business has been good – and it’s all legal.

For the longest time, Mang Jun earned his keep through cyanide fishing, an illegal activity that was not only dangerous, but also paid little. He was finally able to abandon it with the help of the Kaanib ng mga Mangingisda at Magsasaka ng Numancia Agri-Aqua (KaMAMANA), a people’s organization dedicated to finding legal and sustainable livelihoods for marginal fisherfolk.

Mang Jun’s successful transition from a cyanide fisherman to a mud crab farmer is just one of the many stories worth telling and retelling to let people and communities understand what climate change mitigation and adaptation mean.

To bring these stories to light, Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) recently held a workshop to help journalists share these stories that would inspire people to do something about climate change. The need for communication is especially urgent considering the massive destruction of the country’s mangrove population, which has gone down from 375,020 hectares in 1950 to only 139,100 hectares in 1988, due largely to activities such as cyanide fishing and improper harvesting of mangroves for charcoal or fuel wood. Stories such as Mang Jun’s make the concept of climate change adaptation real to ordinary folk.

For MPIC, communicating these stories to galvanize people to action is particularly important. Over the past few years, MPIC has been working closely with various agencies and organizations to arrest the destruction of the country’s mangroves, which protect communities against storms, shield coastlines against flooding and serve as vital habitats for the Philippines’ rich marine life.

The conservation of mangroves is a key component of Shore It Up, the MVP Group’s flagship environment program and its response to the threats of climate change. Implemented in partnership with LGUs, government agencies and volunteers, the program aims for sustainable development through the preservation and conservation of the country’s diverse and rich marine resources in order to help mitigate the increasingly destructive effects of climate change.

Shore It Up’s core activity, which has attracted over 75,000 volunteers since 2009, is more than an environmental awareness campaign. Its holistic approach to environmental preservation involves mangrove and tree planting, giant clam rearrangement and seeding, artificial reef restoration and environmental education seminars for volunteers, residents of coastal communities and their children.

It was as a result of these activities that fisherfolk like Mang Jun have abandoned their environmentally destructive practices and embraced more sustainable livelihood activities.

Citing an immediate positive impact of Shore It Up, the local government of Siargao in Surigao del Norte reported a significant decrease – down to 35 percent – in mangrove wood harvesting and use as a result of the campaign. This proves the effectiveness of the program and the mindset change that mangroves are for better use than ornaments or firewood.

Shore It Up also involves underwater cleanup activities, for which the program has gathered close to 300 divers from the MVP group and various private and government organizations.

In its first run, the underwater cleanup yielded 526.5 kilograms of garbage from the dive site 30 meters away from the sea wall.

In addition, around 1,363.3 kilograms of trash was also gathered by over 300 non-diver volunteers, who cleaned up the seaside boulevard and nearby coastal areas. A total of 1.89 metric tons of trash were collected during that cleanup weekend. Several runs have been held since then.

“There are many success stories that we have to share with the rest of the world to inspire them that they can do their part in environmental preservation. We believe that training journalists would enable them to communicate the concepts of climate change and make these real to Filipinos,” says Melody del Rosario, vice president for Corporate Communications of MPIC.

“When Shore It Up started in 2008, our vision was simply to raise awareness on the importance of biological diversity for areas around coastal communities. The project has come a long way since then – from mere coastal and underwater cleanup activities, we have started to cover the education and infrastructure ends of marine environmental rescue, restoration and revival.”

As part of the workshop, participants also visited the Mangrove Protection and Information Center and the mangrove view deck in Del Carmen which are part of the Shore it Up Mangrove Project. Restored by MPIC, this is a center for the protection and propagation of mangroves in the island’s estuaries and the rehabilitation of degraded mangrove ecosystem, among others.

Due to be launched this year is the Alaminos Mangrove Propagation and Information Center. The Mangrove Center in Bohol, planned to be launched soon after, completes the nationwide presence of the project.

The workshop is the third of a series of four seminar workshops on climate change, agriculture and food security conducted for the Philippine regional media cosponsored by the CCAFS Regional Program for Southeast Asia in collaboration with the Philippine Agriculture Journalists, Inc., the MVP Group of Companies and the Department of Agriculture with the Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists and Philippine Science Journalists, Inc.  as partners.

It was attended by 40 journalists and 76 student journalists from 27 schools in Siargao accompanied by their advisers.

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