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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 3 (2014 Deadline)

Enhancement of Philippines’ research capability in understanding the role of mangrove ecosystem health in the adaptation and mitigation against natural disasters

PI:  Severino Salmo III (, Ateneo de Manila University
U.S. Partner: Ilka Feller, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Smithsonian Institution
Project Dates: September 2014 to January 2018

Project Overview

Mangroves are coastal forests known to provide timber and fisheries products, function as habitat, and provide protection against erosion and storm surges. Mangroves also sequester huge amounts of atmospheric CO2 and stabilize shorelines. These ecological functions qualify mangroves as important adaptation and mitigation strategies against climate change. In the Philippines, the existence of mangroves has long been threatened by anthropogenic and natural causes, primarily by sea level rise. This is further aggravated by the archipelagic nature of the country, which is located in a typhoon path where at least 20 typhoons pass annually. To address mangrove loss, massive mangrove restoration programs have been implemented since the 1990s. Unfortunately, these restoration programs employ plantation of primarily Rhizophora mucronata in suboptimal conditions, thus yielding low survival and stunted growth and casting doubts whether this approach can effectively function as a barrier against natural disasters.

There is a lack of understanding of how the presence, loss, or condition of mangroves will affect their ability to respond and adapt to natural disasters. This research project aims to establish a better understanding of the relationship of the state of mangrove health to vulnerability to natural disasters in the Philippines. The project also aims to improve the capacity of Filipino researchers to monitor coastal systems. Data will be generated and ecological models will be developed to show how mangroves respond to typhoons and the sea level rise,  which is critically needed information to protect the Philippines from ongoing threats from these natural disasters. This capacity building project will strengthen skills and knowledge about coastal ecosystem responses and adaptation to climate change. The results of this study will be disseminated to the Philippines' academic communities, resource managers, NGOs, and policy makers in order to develop broader goals for coastal ecosystem management. Mangrove monitoring stations will be established to provide valuable information on coastal stability or vulnerability that will provide insights on how mangroves respond to climate change. These monitoring stations will serve as a model of mangrove monitoring systems that can be applied in other areas of the Philippines. The results of the study will be shared through workshops, conferences, and scientific meetings. The findings will also be published and shared on the website.

Final Summary of Project Activities

3-191 Field Sample Collection
The project team collects samples during a field visit (photo courtesy of Dr. Salmo).
The project started with the rationale that Philippine mangroves are threatened by typhoons, sea level rise (SLR), and anthropogenic activities such as urbanization, conversion to aquaculture ponds, and ineffective mangrove restoration programs. These threats are exacerbated by the lack of understanding of how the status of mangrove forests (e.g., intact, restored, or disturbed) will affect their resiliency. Given these challenges, the PI Dr. Salmo and his project team collaborated with local environmental managers to study the biodiversity and the ability of typhoon-damaged mangroves to adapt to natural disasters. These activities were made possible through the engagement and training of research assistants (RAs) and undergraduate and graduate students. The information they gathered and analyzed can be used to improve mangrove restoration programs and enhance existing local management practices.

There were three project partners’ meeting in Ateneo de Manila University (2015), Masinloc (2016) and Palompon (2017). The meetings in 2016 and 2017 also served as training for the partners in sustaining the mangrove monitoring programs in their respective jurisdictions. The project also co-organized the 1st National Seagrass and Mangrove Bioshield Conference (2016), where some partners presented their mangrove conservation programs. Seven project sites were established to serve as mangrove monitoring stations: Bani, Pangasinan; Masinloc, Zambales; Subic, Zambales; Busuanga, Palawan; Kalibo, Aklan; Bantayan Island, Cebu; and Palompon, Leyte. These sites were chosen based on their proximity to landfall areas of typhoons, particularly Super Typhoon Haiyan, and their suitability for representing various forest conditions—intact, disturbed, or restored. Two sites (Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental, and Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area) were recently added to complement the assessment of the contribution of mangrove restoration programs in the enhancement of biodiversity research. The project team conducted periodic site assessments (four to six months per site) to track and evaluate spatio-temporal changes in mangrove vegetation and sediment conditions. They also carried out sediment sampling for carbon stock measurements. The project provide the first estimate of total carbon stocks for Philippine mangroves and highlighted both the impacts of typhoons and the difference in the carbon storage capacity of natural versus planted stands. The team’s findings point to improvements that are needed in current practices for mangrove restoration design and implementation. The project also pioneered the use of the rod Surface Elevation Table – Marker Horizon (rSET-MH) instrument in the assessment of surface elevation change (as an indicator of vulnerability or adaptability) of Philippine natural and planted mangroves against SLR. The results provide an estimate of adaptive capacity of the various sites to SLR based on the extent and health of mangroves in the area.

In addition to the research outputs in the form of conference presentations and published papers, the project resulted in significant capacity building for the many students involved. The project supported undergraduate theses by eight students and graduate theses by six (two completed and four ongoing as of April 2018). These studies focused on carbon sequestration and nutrient resorption efficiency between natural and planted mangrove stands, fish biodiversity in the mangrove-seagrass-coral continuum, carbon stocks in the mangrove-seagrass continuum, crab and microbial activity in natural and planted mangrove stands, seedling growth in natural and planted mangrove stands, effects of mining on mangrove sediments, and contribution of litter fall on the accretion in mangrove sediments. These results were also shared in several meetings with the policy makers from the government and NGOs, including in the Road Mapping and Planning Workshop sessions by the Climate Change Commission (CCC). The CCC included in their work plan the conduct of carbon stocks assessment and greenhouse gas inventories in some other representative mangrove sites in the Philippines. The PI also received a similar invitation from the Philippines’ Congress to comment on their proposed coastal monitoring and management bills.

Dr. Salmo reports that even though the project has now ended, he is committed to continuing to pursue the partnerships developed and fostered under PEER and seek other funding to continue relevant research and education activities. Local mangrove managers from the municipalities involved in the project have expressed interest in continuing the joint work, which would be leveraged with their existing budget resources for environmental conservation. The PI is also working to develop additional partnerships with Conservation International-Philippines and Maynilad Water Services, Inc. to support follow-on activities. The project website at will continue to be regularly updated, and Dr. Salmo is working with Prof. Miguel Flores on a book on Philippine mangroves that is expected to be submitted for publication later in 2018.

“The PEER project provided me an opportunity to conduct and enhance mangrove research in the Philippines. Prior to this grant, we have difficulty in getting funding even from our national government. With the PEER program however, I am definitely confident that I will be getting more opportunities to further mangrove research in the country. Proof of it is the two-year research grant that I secured last year where the funder recognized the importance of my project proposal as it is supported by PEER. Through the PEER project, I was also able to engage RAs, undergraduate and graduate students, and local mangrove managers. This pool will definitely contribute in sustaining mangrove research and network of mangrove managers in the country. I was also engaged in various international and national networks because of the research I have done in the Philippines. These are just some of the things [for which] I will be forever grateful to the PEER program.” Dr. Severino Salmo III


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