Assessing Awareness:

Can You Hear the Mangroves, (San) Fernando?

Photography by ISO

Mangrove Roots in San Fernando, La Union

Most of the community members are aware of the presence of mangroves in San Fernando, La Union. They have identified varying locations in the province where mangrove ecosystems are continuously protected and cultivated through different initiatives and efforts by the community. These mangroves can be found in most of the coastal areas in La Union, according to the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO). These areas include Poro, Balaoan, Bacnotan, San Juan, San Fernando, Caba, Aringay, Agoo, and Bauang, where Bauang Bakawan Eco-Tourism Park was established, conserved, and developed. This public land with an area of 162.42 hectares located within the barangays of Pudoc and Parian Oeste aims to become a sanctuary for birds and marine species.

In the mangrove areas across San Fernando, different types of mangroves grow, namely, Rhizophora, Sonneratia, and Nypa. Through the conservation programs, tree planting activities, and survival monitoring initiated by CENRO for mangrove ecosystems, 84 hectares of mangrove areas are protected and declared under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) timberland areas.

Along with the community members’ awareness of mangroves in San Fernando, they see these mangrove ecosystems as gifts that should be protected and conserved for future generations. This means that while the locals see mangroves as natural resources from the coasts, they should not forcefully expend them despite their abundance within the locality. For instance, community members aspire to develop mangroves within their locale and hope to benefit the community through the resources and capital, and ecotourism harnessed and developed, respectively, from mangroves. Yet again, protecting these mangroves should not be solely due to the benefits we can reap from them. CENRO shares good advice when it comes to nurturing mangroves, and that is to allow these trees to share their bounty in the most natural and non-obligatory way. 

Photography by ISO

Protecting Mangroves & Marine Life

There are existing efforts by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to conserve and rehabilitate mangroves in San Fernando, including the Mangrove Population Enhancement Project. BFAR is a government institution that provides incentives per mangrove tree that survives after a year. This way, people are motivated to monitor the trees they planted. The institution is also prepared to hold sanctions in cases of violation against mangrove ecosystems. Under RA 10654, Section 99, it shall be unlawful for any person to convert mangroves into fishponds or any other purpose. Fines are equivalent to the ecological value of a hectare of mangroves based on available studies or to an administrative amounting to PHP 10,000,000.00 per hectare. Should the area require rehabilitation or restoration as determined by the institution, the offender shall also be required to restore or pay for the restoration of the damaged area.

There are also cases of illegal cutting of mangroves in the community, as reported by CENRO. These cases are regrettably beyond the scope of the local government and must first be forwarded to national authorities such as the DENR prior to being addressed.

The community members of San Fernando share the same understanding of mangrove ecosystems and their need for protection and conservation. Various community organizations and stakeholders partake in mangroves’ present and future guardianship in San Fernando through their own unique programs and initiatives. For instance, the Lingsat Marine Protected Management Area Council (LMPA) offers watchtowers to oversee marine protected areas in their community and shelters mangrove nurseries. Mangrove seedlings are continuously supplied by CENRO who aids in the planting efforts of LMPA and its members. Seedlings are distributed to the entire city of San Fernando in pursuit of expanding the scope of mangrove tree-planting activities. Cleanup drives and proper waste management are also administered within the community to prevent animals of mangrove ecosystems from ingesting plastic waste. This is in keeping with safeguarding other organisms like sea turtles—who often mistake plastics for jellyfish which is part of their diet—that thrive along flourished mangroves.

In terms of environmental protection in general: the community members are vocal in discussing and mitigating overfishing and illegal fishing activities in San Fernando. Although the community has a prevailing ordinance supervising its fishing grounds, San Fernando is not strange to outsiders who often encroach their waters to conduct these illegal fishing activities. Nevertheless, the local government, together with other community organizations like the LMPA, doubles their efforts to ensure the safety and survivability of diverse organisms that greatly depend on marine systems.

Overall, the community members of San Fernando lay down a potential cornerstone for the preservation of both mangrove and marine ecosystems.

I like to Man-groove, Groove It!

Mangrove ecosystems hold benefits for the environment and human society. Faced with this reality, it is a given that we ought to work on deepening and improving human awareness of existing mangrove conservation efforts. In the city of San Fernando, people are encouraged to get involved in various mangrove activities, particularly mangrove tree planting activities, which CENRO and the city government head. Such is an awareness campaign purporting effective information dissemination and drawing in the attention of other organizations, including the youth, to participate. The national greening program is also participated in by a local educational institution, Union Christian College (UCC), from San Fernando. Here, students are empowered through education to take action when it comes to conserving mangroves.

These endeavors, however, are not enough to address the challenge of raising awareness within the local community about mangrove ecosystems. For instance, as expressed by community members, a need for more environment storytellers seems to be a concern for San Fernando. Only a few people in the community have the passion, initiative, and advocacy to contribute to the environment, particularly in San Fernando’s mangrove forests. One must recognize the significance of involving multi-level stakeholders in the mangrove conservation narrative. In doing so, one becomes close to exhausting the interests and vision for mangrove forests of individuals and groups who benefit from the latter themselves.

Moreover, inviting various stakeholders in the mangrove discourse potentially extends the reach of conservation efforts. Institutions and organizations like CENRO and the Dalumpinas Oeste Eco Rangers (DOERS) can invite agencies to participate in conservation programs, cleanup drives, tree planting activities and encourage health professionals to do such activities within San Fernando, respectively. It would, however, be a shame if this capacity remains reserved from local community members themselves—people who may be unbeknownst to what they can contribute and are contributing as ordinary citizens to the environment. As such, government and non-government organizations must take a responsible step (but more so the government) to educate the locals. For one, there is a value that can be derived from educating the local children who may learn of the threats mangroves experience within their communities and the beauty of such plants early on. This can be done by deepening the scope and discussion of local environmental science and ecology subjects in schools. Representatives of UCC noted how only tangential these subjects are in their school’s curriculum for these to touch on the topic of mangrove conservation.

Finally, in times of a crisis like today’s pandemic, mangrove education must be brought to the virtual landscape. Organizations like DOERS suggest connecting with learners of San Fernando by reaching out to educational institutions and assisting them in conducting classes virtually about the environment for high school and elementary students.

Infographic by students of the Ateneo de Manila University, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

A collection of important quotes from the mangrove awareness assessment of San Fernando

Huge Steps, Little Steps—They All Matter

Personal and communal environmental advocacy envision short-term and long-term plans and goals for the environment and all life depending on it. The success of these initiatives and efforts for the conservation of mangroves, for instance, relies on the increased awareness, participation, and enthusiasm of people to answer the call of mangrove tree planting activities, cleanup drives, educational campaigns, and sharing their experiences on the ground, which can be expedited through social media today. In San Fernando, community members acknowledge the importance of conservation efforts and provide incentives to the local community for every contribution they make to the environment. Members hand in hand secure a mangrove population enhancement project by regularly planting mangrove trees and, most importantly, monitoring the mangrove nurseries in their barangay.

Moreover, the people of San Fernando hope to invite more volunteers to join the programs of the government and non-government organizations. Like youth representatives from the Lupon ng mga Indibidwal na Nangangalaga sa Kalikasan (LINK) and educational institutions like UCC, these individuals and groups hope to encourage more people to participate in and initiate several coastal conservation projects in the San Fernando community. Overall, they seek to involve the entire community in the narrative and conversation of mangrove conversation. 

Photography by ISO

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