- According to historical accounts, the fisheries of Malampaya Sound in the Philippines’ Palawan province were once so rich it was difficult to wade to shore without stepping on crabs.
- This bounty fueled migration to the area from across the Philippines, and by the turn of the 20th century, much of the areas’ mangroves had been cleared or degraded, leading to a decline in fish catches.
- From 2011-2013, mangrove restoration efforts were initiated as part of the Philippines’ National Greening Program, but, as elsewhere in the country, the initiative performed far below target.
- Today, however, thanks to ongoing outreach initiatives, community partnerships and Indigenous belief systems, the importance of preserving mangroves is widely recognized and the area’s coastal forests and fisheries are seeing a recovery.
PALAWAN, Philippines — In the middle of the brackish water of Malampaya Sound in the Philippines’ Palawan province, Panchito Calamare stands on an outrigger fishing boat one drizzling May morning, slowly pulling in his crab line and removing one by one the day’s haul.
When he returns home, he hands over the crabs to his wife, Gloria, to weigh. Other fishermen also come to sell their catch to the couple. Within an hour, their regular buyer arrives to collect the catch, which will eventually land in restaurants and hotels across the province.
The couple recognize that their bountiful catch is tied to the thick mangroves blanketing the sound’s coast. “We take care of our mangroves. We don’t cut them down, because it’s where the crabs and fishes spawn,” says Panchito, 53, from the Indigenous Cuyunon group. “That’s also why we make sure other people won’t destroy them.”
Sitting in the shade of a nipa hut, 44-year-old Gloria faces a mangrove forest while weaving a fishing net. “The mangroves are really a big help to us,” she says. She observes that the crabs inhabit the mangroves until they mature, move to the sea, and are caught by fishers like them.
“When we fish, we also manage to capture those crabs. It’s a great help to us because we’re able to sell a few kilos a day, and save up so we can support the schooling of our children,” she says, noting proudly that her two oldest children have finished university thanks to Malampaya Sound’s bounty.
Speaking to people like Gloria gives the impression that Malampaya Sound is a place where mangroves and coastal communities coexist harmoniously. But getting here took a long, tough journey. For decades, people showed little regard for this rich ecosystem, until the damage reached a point where it was clear that catches were declining in step with the mangroves. Only in the past 10 years has a broad shift in attitudes taken place, as local communities and environmental authorities work together to save this so-called blue forest.