Ivy Marie A. Mangadlao

Published: March 21, 2024

Members of the Banlag Santol Kalikasan Workers Association (BASAKWA) plant tree seedlings in a nursery at the Monkayo Pag-asa Carbon Forest in Davao de Oro. (Erwin Mascarinas file photo)

Every March 21st, the International Day of Forests is celebrated to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests.

Forests are among the world’s most invaluable natural resources, providing a range of ecosystem services from maintaining watersheds to supporting wildlife. Healthy forests also play a vital role in mitigating climate change by absorbing planet-warming carbon dioxide.

As an archipelagic country vulnerable to typhoons and storm surges, the Philippines finds its forest ecosystems even more important as the impacts of climate change intensify.

According to the 2020 Land Cover Maps from the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority, the Philippines boasts a total forest cover spanning 7,226,394 hectares. Mindanao accounts for 32.36% of this area, totaling 2,338,723 hectares. However, rampant deforestation and degradation threaten the region’s ecosystems.

Climate Tracker Asia places a special focus on initiatives in Mindanao that are leading the way in restoring the region’s vital ecosystems, benefiting not only its inhabitants but also contributing significantly to the fight against the climate crisis.

Monkayo Pag-asa carbon forest in Davao de Oro

The Banlag Santol Kalikasan Workers Association (BASAKWA) carries tree seedlings to be planted in the Monkayo Carbon Forest. (File Photo by Ivy Marie Mangadlao)

For 37 years, the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF), the premier organization dedicated to preserving the country’s national bird and its forest home, has actively pursued reforestation, making it a flagship program. One ongoing project involves the reforestation of 22.4 hectares of degraded lowland forest in Barangay Banlag, Monkayo, Davao de Oro.

The 22.4-hectare land donated by the Yap family to PEF was once a thriving natural forest, offering multiple services such as slope protection, wildlife habitats, and water sources for surrounding villages, while also acting as a carbon sink. However, due to landscape changes and deforestation, these invaluable benefits were lost.

Named Monkayo Pag-asa Carbon Forest, this initiative was launched in 2022 to rejuvenate the area through reforestation, thereby reinstating the array of services provided by the original habitat.

According to their December 2023 inventory, over 100 tree species, including both fast-growing and shade-loving endemic varieties, have been planted, totaling approximately 12,500 individual trees.

PEF has reported a low mortality rate, with only 20 to 50 out of 500 seedlings lost.

Read more: FACT SHEETS: The Philippines Dwindling Forest

Mangrove forest in Del Carmen, Siargao

An aerial view of Del Carmen’s vast mangrove forest on Siargao Island. (File Photo by Ivy Marie Mangadlao)

Del Carmen, a small town in Siargao, used to be one of the country’s worst offenders for illegal mangrove cutting in 2010. Charcoal production was a major culprit, depleting wide tracts of mangrove forests.

However, thanks to the strict implementation of mangrove management and reforestation efforts, Del Carmen now boasts one of the largest contiguous blocks of mangrove forests in the country, spanning over 4,800 hectares.

According to Del Carmen’s 2020 report, regular mangrove planting has been conducted by the town together with its partners since 2013. People’s organizations developed and supplied mangrove propagules using coconut husks for potting, instead of polyethylene plastic bags, to lessen mangrove nursery maintenance costs and reduce additional plastic waste.

In 2015, the town engaged previous illegal mangrove cutters in planting 20,000 mangrove seedlings with SIKAT – Del Carmen. With ongoing planting and monitoring, almost 1,000 hectares have been planted, with an impressive 80% survival rate.

The mangrove forest played a crucial role in helping the town withstand Super Typhoon Odette (Rai), which made landfall on the island in 2021. Reports indicate that the mangroves mitigated storm surges, preventing the complete destruction of coastal settlements.

In February 2023, the Climate Change Commission announced the official nomination of the Del Carmen mangrove forest for inclusion in the Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance list.

Taguibo Watershed in Butuan City

Volunteers carry tree seedlings to be planted in Taguibo Watershed Forest Reserve. (Erwin Mascarinas)

The Taguibo River Watershed Reserve in Butuan City has a history marred by resource exploitation, significantly reducing forest cover since the 1960s.

Despite becoming a Watershed Forest Reserve in 1997, threats such as tree poaching, mining, and quarrying persist. These challenges have prompted government agencies and private entities to take action, initiating rehabilitation efforts in the early 2000s.

In Butuan City, Father Saturnino Urios University (FSUU) has taken proactive action to reforest the Taguibo Watershed Reserve, the city’s sole source of potable water, which spans 4,367 hectares.

Through the “Save Taguibo Watershed” initiative, the university has planted trees across 30 hectares since 2015, with ongoing efforts on another 30 hectares. They plan to propose additional reforestation projects covering 30 more hectares in partnership with the city government.

The FSUU Foundation is also involved in another project focusing on ongoing reforestation and rehabilitation efforts in 120 hectares of the watershed area.

Based on its latest data, they have planted 60,000 seedlings with a survival rate of 93%.

Mangroves restoration in Cagwait, Surigao del Sur

Community members work together to raise the soil elevation before planting to ensure the survival of the mangrove seedlings in Cagwait, Surigao del Sur. (Oceanus Conservation)

In a coastal community in Cagwait, Surigao del Sur, a project is underway to revive important coastal ecosystems. Spearheaded by Oceanus Conservation, the local government, and the Barangay Poblacion Fisherfolks Association, the initiative focuses on transforming abandoned fishponds into flourishing mangrove forests using a biophysical approach.

According to Oceanus Conservation, this approach involves assessing the restoration site’s tidal, soil, and environmental conditions, and then adjusting mangrove outplanting methods to match the ecosystem’s needs. They believe this restoration will be a game-changer in Cagwait, combining indigenous knowledge with scientific practices.

Oceanus Conservation has planted 2,746 seedlings using the mound planting method since May 2023. Recent monitoring found that the survival rate of planted seedlings was 63.80% after several months.

“If the strategy is effective and collaborations are successfully implemented, mangrove forest cover in Cagwait will be significantly enhanced in the upcoming years,” Oceanus said.

“This increased cover will enhance the livelihoods of coastal communities, and Cagwait will also be more resilient to climate change,” it added.