Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Climate Change Adaptation Programme for Island Garden City of Samal Launched

Imagine the rhythmic lapping of waves on a powdered ivory shoreline, punctuated by the occasional rustling of coconut fronds, given life by the sea breeze. The Samal Island of today still boasts of unspoiled beaches, productive coral reefs and verdant forests. As we face a climate-defined future, however, the Samal Island of tomorrow may be a very different place.

Renowned not just for its unique name but for the extensive wealth of its natural resources, the Island Garden City of Samal (IGACOS) faces a promising future. The ballooning population of Davao City promises millions in revenues from tourism. Unfortunately, destructive development, agricultural runoff and climate change effects have already begun to assail IGACOS’ beaches, reefs and forests – negating its differential advantage as a tourism destination.

To address this, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) with its Philippine national organization known as Kabang Kalikasan ng Pilipinas Foundation, Inc., and the local government of IGACOS are embarking on an ambitious four-year program to build-up the resilience of the region’s coastal ecosystems while identifying and reducing potential climate change-related vulnerabilities – all to improve the lives and livelihoods of native SamaleƱos.

The project aims to ensure that effective climate change adaptation strategies are developed and will be implemented – and that related adaptation strategies are integrated into local planning frameworks for associated coastal and island ecosystems by empowered and resourced stakeholders. Project components include climate change vulnerability assessments, adaptation planning, communications campaigns to increase stakeholder understanding on climate change and the crucial role of MPAs for food security, public and private sector alliance-building and restoring the resilience of the Davao Gulf’s rich marine ecosystems via improved ridge-to-reef protection.

This support has been made possible through funding provided by the European Union in the form of a grant to WWF of 2.5M EUR (PHP156,170,000) for the program entitled ‘Implementing Climate Adaptation Strategies in the World’s Most Outstanding Natural Places’ which spans three countries – Colombia, Madagascar and the Philippines.

The European Union funded programme was launched at the end of an inception workshop held at the Royal Mandaya Hotel in Davao City from 14 to 15 June 2011 and was graced by over 60 stakeholders and representatives from both the public and private sector.

The Davao Gulf, which surrounds all of IGACOS, ranks as one of the priority conservation areas of WWF. It is a breeding and nursery ground for small and large pelagic species, with frequent sightings of sea turtles, whale sharks, dugongs and marine mammals, only some of the many species cited in the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

Beneath the waters of the Gulf, there still remains a paradise brimming with tropical marine species. Davao has long bragged of its coral reefs, making it a favorite among divers, tourists, investors, business opportunists, scientists and conservationists alike.
Sadly, the Gulf itself is being threatened by the very economic activities it supports. Seen above and along the coast are ports, large plantations, oil depots, mining operations, factories and other capital-intensive industries that are perceived to exert pressure on the quality of the water, the natural habitats and the productivity of its fisheries.
Pollution is a major menace: fertilizers and pesticides used by various plantations as well as mine tailings often contaminate groundwater and other bodies of water through run-off or leaching. Oil tankers and vessels traversing the gulf threaten it as well with the possibility of oil or chemical spills. Plastic armadas of trash and vast sedimentation plumes from Davao City and the surrounding countryside sail forth to land in IGACOS. Progress for the Davao Gulf usually means urban development – at great cost to the environment. The gut issue here is food security.

WWF-Philippines Vice-Chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan says, “The economic sufficiency and stability of IGACOS is driven by its agriculture, fisheries and tourism businesses. About 18,000 people alone are dependent on fishing for both subsistence and livelihood. What happens to the tourism sector when sea levels rise to reclaim IGACOS’ ivory beaches? Where will fisherfolk cast their lines when coral reef productivity dwindles due to bleaching or acidification?”

Cut off from all land access, a full 31 of IGACOS’ 46 barangays are situated along the coast, rung by 18 Marine Protected Areas or MPAs. IGACOS’ marine ecosystems are some of the most diverse in the country, home to 53 of the 73 known genera of corals found in the country and nine species of seagrass. Over 250 fish species – many commercially valuable – live within these undersea enclaves. The region contributes an average of 22,000 metric tonnes of seafood yearly – ranking 10th among 24 statistical fishing areas within the Philippines.

Concludes Tan, “IGACOS is barely a stone’s throw away from the coastline of Davao City. This is both boon and bane. By working with SamaleƱos to develop sustainable sources of food, energy and water, plus effective ways of adapting to climate change effects, we may help protect the lives and livelihoods of the 96,000 inhabitants of this island paradise. More than just sustainability, our goal is to help IGACOS build its viability and competitiveness, as we head toward a climate-defined future.”

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