In the Philippines, there exists a type of coastal forest that is almost always in contact with seawater; the value of which is often not recognized by people who live far from the sea. These forests are called Mangroves.
Reducing mangrove forest area and health increases threats to coastal communities’ safety and economic development. Coastal hazards such as erosion, flooding and storm waves and surges are all mitigated by healthy mangrove forests. Mangrove loss also reduces coastal water quality, reduces biodiversity, eliminates fish nursery habitat, greatly lessens fish catches and adversely affects adjacent coastal habitats.
Losing mangroves also means losing a major resource for human communities that traditionally rely on mangroves for numerous products (e.g. salt-durable timber for coastal construction, hot-burning wood for cooking and dye rich bark for tanning leathers) and services (e.g. breeding and feeding ground for various species of fish, shellfish, lobsters and crabs and acting as a ‘shock absorber’ or barrier for strong winds and waves).
Mangroves are such powerful plants that when well-established as dense forest by the sea, they not only increase food and wood security of local people but also increase their chances of survival in natural disasters such as cyclones and tsunamis. Thus mangrove conservation efforts are a ‘no-brainer’ and certainly a worthwhile investment for coastal communities.
The current heightened interest in tourism in the Philippines is an opportunity to energize local economies, particularly in coastal municipalities. However, we should be cautious that this does not lure people in islands and coastal areas to get into ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes at the expense of mangrove forests. such as conversion of mangrove habitat into prawn farms and fish ponds or even seaside hotels and resorts.