Understanding Ecological Interconnectedness:

Re-establishing the Importance of Mangroves

The mangroves in San Fernando provide several important functions for the community, making their presence vital and important for the community. Among these are the mangrove forests’ production benefits, protection services, capacity for biodiversity, and generational importance.

Photography by LMPA

Mangroves provide productive functions for coastal communities, creating opportunities for livelihood and enhancing food security and sustainability. The 84 hectares of mangroves in San Fernando house different fish species, which the community, the fisherfolk especially, harvest to sell in the markets. Simply put, protecting the city’s mangrove ecosystem is vital for the residents as it provides them different income-generating activities and food security.

Mangrove forests also serve as natural protection against storm surges for coastal communities. This dense ecosystem helps reduce the impact of strong waves and winds on said communities during the typhoon season. Further, they are a natural filtration system that helps maintain the pH level of and purify seawater, keeping the marine ecosystem healthy and clean. Mangroves can also decrease erosion and provide clean air by storing and regulating carbon.

Mangroves support the rich biodiversity found in San Fernando as it offers nursing grounds and habitat for different species of fish and other marine species. The roots protect and shelter smaller fishes and the pawikan, keeping them safe as juveniles from being predated by larger animals. The branches of mangroves can house different species of birds— providing them comfortable nesting spaces—and other wildlife. Several animals and plant and animal species are sighted in San Fernando, including needlefish, crabs, owls, doves, species of the pawikan such as the Olive Ridley Turtle and Hawksbill Turtle, birds like Maria Capra (Malaysian pied fantail) and Buff-banded Rail or the tikling, and reptiles such as the bayawak and bubuli (skink). There are also different tree species like the coconut tree and the talisay (Indian-almond). While only the pawikan is classified as endangered, the rich biodiversity of San Fernando is threatened by unsustainable anthropogenic activities of the community. Nonetheless, environmental conservation efforts are being undergone to protect non-human life in the area, avoid their potential degradation, and trigger ecosystem imbalance.

Rapid urban development is perceived as the most pressing environmental issue and concern of the community. For instance, a mangrove area behind a local hospital (Lorma Medical Center) was initially planned to be converted into a parking lot. Similar infrastructure and urbanization projects include converting mangrove forests into sidewalks, bay walks, buildings, resorts, and business establishments. For example, in Barangay Poro, construction activities involve cementing creeks. This activity harms mangroves growing in nearby creek areas and, consequently, suppresses mangrove forests from flourishing.

In another aspect, plastic waste in the sea threatens the pawikan, who might confuse plastic for jellyfish. The pawikan holds special importance to San Fernando as it is one of the city’s keystone species. Pawikans assist in maintaining equilibrium in the surrounding marine environment of San Fernando by feeding on jellyfish and seagrasses, for example, that helps regulate the latter’s population.

Finally, while mangroves are often only regarded for their productive functions to both humans, animals, and plants, the majesty of these towering gifts of nature, albeit unpopularly spoken of, is enough of a reason to save and conserve them, as the community of San Fernando expressed in their strong advocacy to safeguard the environment in general. Protecting mangroves is part and parcel of ensuring that future generations will have the chance to experience the beauty of nature. Community members believe that their future sons, daughters, grandchildren, and next of kin deserve to encounter lush greens, sterling mangroves, and wondrous creatures like the pawikan and other marine animals the same way today’s generation interacts with them.

All this is a matter of being selfless and responsible: they believe taking care of the environment has its merits. Saving the environment is yet to be a lost cause. That said, the community enjoins the members of the younger generations to participate and take action. The youth must use their knowledge and skills, especially in emerging technology and social media, to advocate for greater causes such as environmental recuperation.

The Future in the Eyes of the Community

When it comes to aspiring for a greener future for San Fernando, the community hopes for support from different organizations of interest from cities outside. The community is willing to cooperate with environmental plans initiated by external organizations. Moreover, prayers for strength, health, and safety for environmental frontliners, who carry the responsibility of defending and keeping existing environmental efforts alive, form part of the community’s aspirations.

In terms of mangrove conservation, pooling knowledge constitutes the community’s vision for their mangroves, suggesting how insights on mangrove care drawn from localities with larger mangrove areas can expand the locals’ knowledge on how they, as protectors, can fulfill their responsibilities to their local mangroves.

Research is likewise considered by community members as valuable. Allowing these members to receive their share of the study’s results corroborates their role as co-researchers and assists them in evaluating and improving their existing initiatives, programs, and future endeavors about mangrove conservation.

Photography by ISO

Lastly, the need for financial assistance is expressed by community members. Limited local government funds impede the implementation of mangrove- and other environmental conservation activities. While some organizations can provide finance and resources, certain city-wide activities are prioritized over environmental or mangrove-related activities and projects.

Coupling the community’s aspirations was the community’s message for the younger generations: “the story of every species, from how they start as seeds until they grow out and help other species” (Miguel Vargas, DOERS 2021) must be a narrative told and recounted to the youth. Hearing the story of sea turtles—how they start, move to the sea, and return to the shore—offers a glimpse of environmental realities we do not often meet. It is discourse like this that the community believes can articulate the issues experienced by the environment and perhaps fuel a thrust to address similar issues.

Moreover, the community suggests providing environmental education as early as now, pre-empting extensive ecological damage and cost, as it would be far less expensive than rehabilitating already-severely-damaged green spaces like the Pasig River, Manila Bay, and Boracay, as enumerated by community members.

Photography by ISO

The local government of San Fernando, and especially their partners from their barangays, have been forward in protecting the locale’s environment and coastal areas. However, a consensus among the members states that trash remains entangled within mangroves and caught by the waters within San Fernando. The persistence of pollution and other environmental issues in the city leaves no room to enfeeble the need for environmental education, including the protection and rehabilitation of mangroves as fundamental habitats of different species of coastal marine life and as key sources of individuals residing near the coasts, who are primarily fish consumers.

The community of San Fernando calls on the youth to get involved in efforts and advocacies dedicated to the environment’s well-being. Participating in the protection and rehabilitation endeavors of mangroves, for instance, is one suggestion by the community. Another means of engaging in similar causes involves planting more trees—an initiative whose benefit spans both the current and future generations, entitling the latter to a green future they merit. In this new age, the youth possesses novel knowledge and skills, especially in emerging technology and social media, which they can use to advocate for more significant causes such as environmental recuperation.

Photography by ISO

“Iyong ibon na kapag lumipad ka, maging malaya ka, makikita mo iyong kalikasan na ganda sa iyong mata” (Martin Ollero, Jr., PSLA 2021).

Encouragement, hope, and commitment—these underscore San Fernando’s message to the youth, reminding them how it is not yet too late to stand up and partake in activities for the environment, for instance, taking care of mangroves and turtles, that community members join in.

The community wishes to invite the youth to engulf in the scenic beauty of walking along the city’s seaside promenade, taking in the impressive abundance of mangroves and turtles. “Nais ko po silang ipasyal. […] Lalo na sa kabundukan, sa mga dagatnais ko silang ipasyal doon, ipakita sa kanila ang magagandang lugar na pwede nilang tirhan, pwede nilang alagaan, at [kung saan] pwede nilang kalaro [ang] mga hayop, nasa lupa man o dagat. Tapos, isang tanong ang iiwan ko sa kanila: nais ba nilang tumira doon? At makasama ang magagandang gawa ng Diyos? Kung oo ang isasagot nila, pangangalagaan at pangangalagaan talaga nila ang lugar na titirhan nila” (Emilio Patricio, LMPA 2021).

Photography by ISO

Moving Forward

Provided that the community is knowledgeable and aware of the importance of mangroves, it is now possible to conduct efforts to fully establish the role of mangroves in San Fernando, La Union. Re-establishing the importance of mangroves is relevant because it is integral to their cause of marine protection.

The cause of mangrove conservation is critical in the community’s fight against environmental issues that endanger species and the marine ecosystem, specifically mangrove loss and mismanagement. 

Establishing ecological interconnections can be done by supporting the overall role that mangroves play in protecting the marine ecosystem. Mangroves support the rich biodiversity of the area, serving as homes and nursing grounds for many species like the endangered pawikan, fish, squid, corals, and seagrasses. Mangrove forests also have productive functions such as protecting animals and plants, supplying resources, and providing livelihood for local communities along the coasts. Mangroves also support other marine ecosystems, as they stabilize ecological processes, while simultaneously shielding coastal ecosystems and communities from effects of calamities such as storm surges. Overall, protecting mangroves intersects with protecting marine ecosystems as a whole.

Highly industrial human activities like building seaports, construction work, and ship transfers produce waste that harm San Fernando’s marine and coastal ecosystems. The locals of San Fernando must work towards boosting awareness of the community’s environmental situation—both tragic stories and successful endeavors underpinned by the relationship between conserving mangrove systems and protecting the marine ecosystem. In doing so, one finds clarity in approaching the best means to contribute to the city’s existing environmental threat mitigation and conservation efforts.

When ecological interconnections are established, the community stays informed on how they can benefit from  a healthy marine ecosystem in the long run. This environmental state produces opportunities for the community members to obtain resources, capital, livelihood, tourism opportunities, and coastal protection. 

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