Panoramic views help protect Philippine wetlands
Looking out from the new boardwalk along the coast of the Philippine village of Bogtong, one can take in unrivaled views of the expansive, shallow bay. Endangered coral reefs thrive in the clear waters, and the occasional dugong grazes peacefully beneath the surface. To the north, dense, deep-green mangrove trees reach from the water to the steep, forested hillsides of Busuanga Island.
The 250-meter elevated walkway is the centerpiece of a recently finished Seacology project that protects nearly 1,000 acres of mangrove forest. The mangroves are crucial because they protect the village from cyclone damage, provide habitat for young reef fish and many other creatures, and prevent flooding and erosion. Mangroves also trap huge amounts of carbon, making them an essential part of the effort to slow climate change.
The sturdy bamboo boardwalk, anchored in the shallow estuary with steel-and-concrete pylons, is now open to hikers, birdwatchers, and other visitors from the area. When pandemic travel restrictions ease, it will welcome those from farther away. Seacology funded the structure, which was built by Bogtong residents and local partner C3 Philippines, as a way to incentivize local stewardship of the thriving, but threatened, ecosystems.
“It has not been easy to protect mangroves during the pandemic,” explained Ferdie Marcelo, Seacology’s field representative for the Philippines. “The tourism industry has ground to a halt, and those in Busuanga Island who depend on it are hungry. Mangrove trees, especially when turned into charcoal, can fetch a good price on the black market.”
The new boardwalk will bring both mangrove protection and economic benefits for the community. Several residents of Bogtong have received ecotourism training, and five have passed an exam and are accredited nature guides. The income from this work is already helping offset losses due to the pandemic, and over the long term, ecotourism jobs will provide an alternative to fishing, relieving pressure on the area’s marine resources.
Having livelihoods that depend on healthy mangroves provides a big incentive to protect these important forests. And visitors will leave with new appreciation for mangroves; new interpretive signs along the boardwalk inform them about threats to the mangroves and the importance of protecting them.
Even before it was completed, the project was already providing benefits for the environment.
“While the boardwalk was under construction, the villagers were able to fend off poachers, possibly because of all the activity,” said Marcelo. “With its completion, the boardwalk itself has made it easier for villagers to patrol this valuable resource.”