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A group of volunteers tuck mangrove plants into the soil. Photo: OCOT

Sowing mangrove seeds of inspiration in the Philippines

Tree planting and mangrove reforestation efforts led by a local resident can reduce the risk of heavy floods in her municipality.
Tree planting and mangrove reforestation efforts led by a local resident can reduce the risk of heavy floods in her municipality.

The Hagonoy municipality, located beside the Manila Bay, is not spared from heavy floods brought about by torrential rains every year. Growing trees and water-based plants like mangroves in the area can greatly help in protecting community members and their coastal livelihoods.

Three years ago, resident Natalia Sali embarked on a journey to spread environmental awareness among children through a school-based Narra and fruit tree planting program. Her advocacy, One Child, One Tree (OCOT) has since expanded into coastal cleanups, solid waste management, and mangrove planting, across different towns in Hagonoy.

“I want children to realize the potential of them being partners in protecting the environment. The best (time) to start is when they are young, and then you can still mold their minds to understand the importance of the environment,” Sali said. 

A male volunteer during an OCOT activity. Photo: OCOT

She didn’t do this alone; she enlisted the help of her family, the local government, various community members and young volunteers who shared her passion to take care of the planet. 

For her, it was important to consider what stakeholders thought. “We don’t impose things. We listen to people. We ask them, ‘What’s the problem?’ And then together, we solve this with their participation,” she said. 

To date, the OCOT has spearheaded five tree planting activities, and seven mangrove reforestation and research activities. Sali shared that she even advocated for the protection of OCOT’s mangrove plantations in Tibaguin town- a dream that came true two years ago when the local government drafted Municipal Ordinance 2018-141 which declared the site as a protected area.

Marine scientist Dr. Severino Salmo III said that mangroves serve as a “natural buffer for floods, landslides, typhoons and rising sea levels.” The water-based plants store three to five times more carbon dioxide (CO2) than tropical upland forests can.

But in a span of twenty years until 2016, these mangroves have been disappearing in portions of the Bulacan, including Hagonoy, based on data from the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

An adult and youth volunteer tuck mangrove plants into the soil. Photo: OCOT

Since 2019, local organizations like OCOT have planted more than 4,000 mangroves in Hagonoy town Tibaguin, but Salmo said that the plants need to be healthy to effectively absorb carbon dioxide. “Mangroves can efficiently sequester CO2 if they are healthy…If mangroves are not healthy, that is if they are damaged or fragmented, then you cannot expect them to fully deliver their ecosystem services,” Salmo said.

Sali shared that there are more projects in the pipeline for her advocacy in the coming years. 

For 21-year old college student and OCOT volunteer Charles Estrella, participating in the advocacy’s activities was a concrete way of “doing something good for the earth.”

Not all hope is lost. A lot of people still want to help and do something about the current state of our environment. All they really need is a nudge in the right direction,” he said.

Last month, the OCOT was proclaimed as the national winner for the Philippines by the Energy Globe Award 2020. The Austrian-based accolade recognizes sustainable environment projects all over the world.