BOLINAO, Pangasinan – They only wanted to stop the destruction and degradation of marine resources – their main source of livelihood – in Bolinao, Pangasinan, but in their own little way, they are helping mitigate the serious problem of global warming.
Members of Kaisaka (Kaisahan ng mga Samahan Alay sa Kalikasan or Union of Organizations for the Environment), a federation of 10 village-based fishermen’s groups, have replanted 74 hectares of mangroves, established eight marine sanctuaries with a total area of 90 hectares, and helped implement livelihood projects and formulate the town’s coastal development plan.
“There was a rapid reduction in our income because the fish were fast disappearing. Illegal fishing was rampant and the corals were mostly dead,” Jesem Gabatin, Kaisaka board chair, said. “Old residents had told us that our town used to have thick mangrove forests, but these were depleted because the areas were turned into fishponds. The mangroves were cut and used as housing materials or firewood.”
Gabatin, one of the organizing pioneers, said all he knew then was that he wanted to help stop the environmental degradation. “It was only later that we found that we were helping abate global warming.”
Nileema Noble, resident representative of the United Nations Development Program in the Philippines, assured the fishermen that nothing was wrong with starting projects laden with “vested interests.”
“As human beings, we do things with our vested interest first,” Noble said when she visited Bolinao to monitor projects of the Sagip Lingayen Gulf Project (SLGP) of the Marine Environment Resources Foundation Inc.
In the island town of Anda, Mayor Nestor Pulido said people who had reforested the mangrove areas several years ago were already reaping the fruits of their labor.
When a storm surge hit the town in November last year, houses in the coastal villages were spared because of the presence of mangroves. People have also learned that mangrove areas are nurseries for fish.
Noble said she was “impressed” by the projects of the fishermen, whom she described as “not scientists but people with a lot of common sense.” She called on local officials to consider global warming in all their development projects.
Mangroves absorb carbon dioxide sent into the atmosphere by industries and other human activities. “Through photosynthesis, mangroves absorb carbon from the atmosphere and store it in all their parts, just like any terrestrial (land) plants. But unlike terrestrial plants, mangroves store carbon in the sediments as well. Less Carbon means low global warming,” said Severino Salmo, a mangrove researcher pursuing a doctoral degree in marine science at the University of Queensland in Australia.
A hectare of mangrove forest can absorb around 20 tons of carbon each year, Salmo said.
But Noble said the fishermen’s efforts were not enough to counter global warming. “It is a problem that should be addressed on international, provincial, community, individual levels. All of us [should] contribute in reducing global warming,” she said.
Cesar Junsan, president of Kaisaka, said it was in 1995 when the Marine Environment Resources Foundation (MERF) and the local government started the community-based coastal resources management (CBCRM).
Seeds for marine development projects were sown, including the formation of five grassroots organizations and the establishment of a mangrove reforestation site in Barangay Pilar and a protected area in Balingasay.
In 1997, the CBCRM project was stopped. “We coordinated with the local government to survive. When we had meetings, we all contributed to buy our snacks,” Gabatin said.
The fishermen started planting mangroves in Pilar and Arnedo, two of the four original member-villages of Kaisaka. The others are Binabalian and Balingasay.
The next year, the MERF and the Haribon Foundation resumed implementation of the CBCRM project until 2002. The Asian Social Institute, provincial government, the Bolinao Marine Ecological Fund Foundation and Glaxo-Smith Klein, a pharmaceutical firm, contributed to the mangrove rehabilitation efforts.
Kaisaka became a partner of the SLGP for the implementation of the CBCRM programs and other activities in 2002. The original four groups increased to 10 when more villages joined the federation.
Challenges were plenty along the way, said Annabelle Echavez, Kaisaka secretary. She cited an incident when a resident asked then Bolinao Mayor Jesus Celeste to stop fishermen from planting mangroves in a proposed fishpond site.
“The mayor sent somebody to stop us. With muddied feet, we trooped to his office and explained what we were doing. In the end, he told us to go on planting,” Echavez said.
In 2004, Kaisaka obtained P2.5 million from the UNDP for the mangroves projects and sanctuaries.
The fishermen learned some lessons in planting mangroves, Gabatin said. For one, mortality rate was high because “we did not put nets around the plantation.” During high tide, plastic and dead sea grasses would wound around the plants, depriving these of sunlight. Barnacles suffocated the plants.
“We will replant the areas again,” Junsan said.
While most residents are already aware of environmental protection, others are stubborn, Gabatin said. Some people would gather shells in the mangrove sites, killing the plants, although these already abound with crustaceans and fish. Others, however, would drive them away, telling them to fish elsewhere.