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Saving the Mangroves

The Fourth Global Conference on Oceans, Coasts and Islands has come to an end in Vietnam.

Across the world, mangroves are at threat from climate change and rising water temperatures

Across the world, mangroves are at threat from climate change and rising water temperatures

There is silence among the towering mangroves in the south of Leyte island. When the tide is out, the structure of the trees' stilt roots -- sometimes as tall as a person -- is very clear. Armando Gaviola, a fishing expert who works for south Leyte's environment agency, points out the footprints of a tortoise, which spawned here.

"This is a highly-protected area,” Gaviola says. “Nobody is allowed to fish here or collect seafood -- this mangrove forest is a rest area for plants, animals and people. Even swimming is forbidden because the noise could disturb the animals."

The provincial government of south Leyte has set up over twenty so-called protected areas and wildlife coastal zones on the island. Areas where fish, crab and other sea creatures have the necessary peace and quiet to reproduce and slowly redress the balance.

Lots of work needed

Thousands of small fish can be seen among the mangroves but there are also old coconut shells, plastic bottles, cans and shoes -- all signs that a lot still needs to be done. Some of the mangroves themselves have serious wounds:

"Somebody peeled off the bark of this tree with the clear intention of killing it,” explains Gaviola. “Because then it can be sawn down and that's not so bad if it's already dead. Fifty-year-old mangroves! They simply peeled off the bark. The local authorities need to know about this."

Armando Gaviola also wants the local population to become involved in preserving the ecosystem. He wants fishermen to understand why the coastal zones make sense. He organises workshops for them and for schoolchildren.

Civilian fisheries patrol force

He also recruits volunteers for the Bantay Dagat -- a civilian fisheries patrol force -- to keep watch over the coastal waters. The German Technical Cooperation has provided several patrol boats.

Bantay Dagat Ireneo Dugayo radios that he has four fisher boats full of fishnets attached to his own patrol boat. Eight fishermen from the island of Iloilo have been caught fishing illegally in communal waters. They have to pay a fine of thirty euros per boat.

But Uwe Scholz from the German Technical Cooperation says it doesn't make sense to punish these small sinners. The real damage is caused by dynamite, poison and trawlers used by fishermen employed by rich people with good lawyers.

Uwe Scholz thinks that the coast will only be properly protected if illegal fishing practices are banned. He also thinks there should be less fishermen overall but because there are very few alternative professions, this is not a viable prospect.

The major challenge for the island is how to reconcile the environment with the economy but it could take years to find a solution -- the coastal zones are only a beginning.