ISSN 2330-717X

Protecting Wildlife While Creating Income Is Possible – OpEd

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For an insight to community-based conservation and sustainability, come to Talabong Mangrove Forest and Coastal Park, in Bais, Negros Oriental in the Philippines, it will teach you.

The Talabong Mangrove Forest and Coastal Park more than 400 hectares, contains a bird sanctuary and a protected mangrove forest. It is a natural habitat and nesting ground for many bird species and other wildlife. This is only the second protected mangrove area in the Philippines. The first area to be protected is the Pagbilao Forest Reserve in Pagbilao, Quezon Province established by the Forest Research Institute in 1975. The Talabong Mangrove Forest Reserve is protected by the local government unit, the City of Bais, since the mid-1980s.

It is also a source of livelihood for more than 100 fishing families from 16 villages who depend on it for income, food, and recreation.

“This coastal ecosystem is uniqe because of its mutualistic nature, the people protect it and the ecosystem sustains the population, the people fully aware that the future of their children rests on sustainability of the ecosystem,” marine biologist Frances T. Bengwayan explained,

The mangroves are easily the best tourist attraction especially with the rich birdlife like teeming Philippine mallards and White Herons. While cradling trees and shrubs that grow in saline coastal habitat, it has become an ideal habitat and breeding territory for wildlife including several important species of fish and crustacean as well as for shore and wading birds.

Saying the mangroves also serve as protection to coastal communities of the town, Frances, doing a study on mangroves in the place for Silliman University, said they play a significant value in the coastal zone for the benefits they provide in coastal fisheries.

To top tourist the tourist attraction it provides, the coastal ecosystem boasts of rare dolphin and whale watching and a white sandbar that attracts countless tourists every year, adding to local community coffers.

Rich Biodiversity

Wildlife abound in the mangroves, like lizards, snakes, and many birds, including migratory and shore birds herons, kingfishers, tailor birds, and flycatchers. Fruit bats abound too like the genus Acerodon that roosts on mangrove trees, Frances divulged.

One can also find rich shells and crustaceans, both groups collectively called shellfish, several penaeid crustacean species, and molluscan shells such as the most sought-after edible Geloina and Phacoides.

There are also crabs of the genera Uca, Sesarma and Cardisoma and certain sea cucumbers, Frances said. The mudcrabs Scylla serrato and S. oceanica also exist as well as large species of shipworms Teredo that burrow in decaying logs. Many species of molluscs inhabit the mangroves which supply food and income to the local communities Sipunculid and polychaete worms and oysters abound in the mangroves, she added.

Community-based Conservation System Improves Livelihoods of Fishing Communities

To protect its ecosystem and equally spur rural devevelopment, the Bais local government, recognizing the rich but fragmented assets of its coastal ecosystem, facilitated action geared towards conservation while promoting improved livelihhods of the coastal families.

The people can fish, gather shellfish for food and income at dates allowed by the local government and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), but must guard, protect and preserve the ecosystem. The locals are also allowed to be hired as guides, boatmen for tourists, researchers and visitors.

The local initiative has resulted in:

  • conservation of key biodiversity features and coastal landscapes
  • development of new business opportunities (eg. Birdwatching, shellfish hunting) in the natural environment
  • provision of socio-economic benefits to communities along the coastal ecosystem
  • formation of research partnerships between local governments and line agencies with academes (Silliman University) on sustainable management of natural resources

Frances said conservation planning is often done by government and academe conservationists, ecologists and scientists with the involvement of local community representatives. This approach removes resentment, distrust, and resistance from families living along the coast.

It also lessens the local population’s dependency on natural resources of the ecosystem by broadening livelihood options such as guiding, boating, porting, shellfish hunting and aiding researchers in birdwatching and dolphin and whale-watching.

Frances said the approach, while complex, ensures social sustainability because it encompasses equality, respect, human rights and cohesion, among others.

As in any rural development initiative, genuine involvement of the local populace can spell the success or failure of any economic endeavour, again, the Bais experience teaches us that.

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Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan wrote for the British Panos News and Features and GEMINI News Service, the Brunei Times, and US Environment News Service. In the Philippines, he wrote for DEPTHNews of the Press Foundation of Asia, Today, the Philippine Post, and Vera Files. A practicing environmentalist, he holds postgraduate degrees in environment resource management and development studies as a European Union (EU) Fellow at University College, Dublin, Ireland. He is currently a Fellow of Echoing Green Foundation of New York City. He now writes for Business Mirror and Eurasia Review.

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