Regional dialogue on mangrove restoration convenes advocates from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines

21 December 2023

"We value the contribution of all voices, particularly those in the communities who are ultimately the frontliners of this work on nature restoration."

Mangrove forest along the coast of Bataraza, Palawan, Philippines
WWF-Philippines staff take a boat ride into a mangrove forest along the coast of Bataraza, Palawan, Philippines.

Seventy-five mangrove restoration advocates and practitioners from the Coral Triangle gathered in a regional dialogue in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan from 22 - 24 November 2023.  This was organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines (WWF-Philippines) as a culminating activity of the Ocean Governance Project funded by the European Union. The Ocean Governance Project was endorsed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for implementation in Balabac, Palawan, and later expanded to the neighbouring municipality of Bataraza through a public-private partnership with EPSON.

The municipalities of Balabac and Bataraza in Southern Palawan were chosen for their high marine biodiversity and for being an economic corridor between the Philippines and Malaysia. While mangrove restoration is the project’s primary focus in the Philippines, the Ocean Governance project extends support to the restoration of coral reefs in Malaysia and Indonesia.

The regional dialogue titled ‘Bridging Communities and Government Towards Ecosystem Restoration at Local, National and Regional Scale’ facilitated the sharing of experiential learning between and among the participants to identify areas of collaboration, particularly in accelerating mangrove ecosystem restoration.  

“This is a group that values our deep interconnectedness—of our people, our ecosystems, the ties of our economy, history, culture and governance.  And we value the contribution of all voices, particularly those in the communities who are ultimately the frontliners of this work on nature restoration. We form a web in which every role is important – no role too big or too small,” WWF-Philippines’ Executive Director Katherine Custodio said in her opening remarks.

Highlights of the event included an exhibition of Bataraza’s Community Learning and Innovation Hub, showcasing a knowledge and communication platform where communities, and in this case including the indigenous groups in Balabac and Bataraza, are engaged in the process of restoring the mangrove ecosystem and deriving benefits from it. 

Through the Bataraza Learning and Innovation Hub, communities are empowered to build and sustain local capacity for coastal resource management by exchanging knowledge and lessons learned in their experience gained through mangrove restoration. Other skills required for community organising, such as basic accounting, communications, and co-development of knowledge products for the conservation of coastal and marine ecosystems are also extended through the Hub. 

As a result, the communities have since registered people’s associations - Koboh’ kawan from Balabac and Kutunggan from Bataraza - to support and further their ambitions towards ecosystem restoration, as well as strengthening local resilience to climate change impacts by securing food security and livelihoods. Off-shoot initiatives that have sprouted include a crab fattening pilot, constructing new water tanks to support access to clean water, and setting up an internet hotspot station in some of the hardest-to-reach areas that have little connectivity.

Resource persons representing 10 organizations from the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia presented their existing efforts and insights gained for effectively implementing restoration projects now and in the future.  Among the key lessons were the significance of recognizing and harnessing interconnectedness between programmes, finding wisdom in both success and failed stories, applying inclusive and participatory planning, monitoring and evaluation, and listening closely to local sentiments.

Two simple apps were introduced - a mapping app designed by WWF-Philippines’ GIS specialist to facilitate baselining of mangrove restoration work in Palawan; and a mobile application called MonMang designed by the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) ofIndonesia for the assessment and monitoring of mangrove health. Both apps promote citizen science, enabling local communities to truly participate. 

WWF-Philippines’ Project Manager Mary Joan Pecson shares, “We are so proud to be concluding the EU Ocean Governance Project by gaining more partners like Epson, the Koboh’kowan and Kutunggan Associations, the LGUs of Palawan, Balabac and Bataraza, the Global Marine Alliance, DENR, PCSDS, the Coral Triangle Programme and more. We look forward to greater and further exciting progress through collective efforts in restoring Palawan’s rich biodiversity.”

At the heart of environmental conservation lies the empowerment of local communities. Through transformative partnerships with the private sector, the local government, and stakeholders, WWF-Philippines hopes to further enable communities to #ChangeTheEnding through innovative capacity-building.

WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

WWF-Philippines has been successfully implementing various conservation projects to help protect some of the most biologically-significant ecosystems in Asia since its establishment as the 26th national organization of the WWF network in 1997.