Mangrove restoration saved our lives and our economy, says villager in Northern Samar, Philippines

Nov 13, 2013

A community-based organization in Northern Samar, Philippines, replants the degraded mangrove ecosystem as way of restoring marine life, strengthening food security and protecting coastal areas against environmental disasters. Photo: Trowel Development Foundation

New York--In the wake of the strongest tropical storm on historical record, one that has devastated vast areas of the Philippines, a grassroots initiative that is dedicated to mangrove restoration is showing the importance of healthy ecosystems and environmental integrity to disaster risk reduction.
Trowel Development Foundation is a community-based organization in Northern Samar. Although it was not the region worst hit by Typhoon Haiyan, it was nonetheless gravely affected.  Over the last decade, the initiative has reforested the degraded mangrove ecosystem as way of restoring marine life and strengthening local food security. 

Tree planting along the coast was also intended to establish a natural buffer against natural disasters, a way of protecting the in-land fish and crab farms that are central to the local economy from storm surges. 

In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, the return on community investment in environmental integrity is proving to be prophetically high.

According to email correspondence with the organization today, damage to the community project sites were minimal.  Leonardo Rosario, Executive Director of Trowel Development Foundation, attributes the resilience of local villages to restored ecosystem functioning.  

“Had we not protected the mangrove trees against illegal cutting and had we not planted the areas surrounding the fish farms,” writes Rosario, “the super typhoon would have destroyed everything that the poor fisherfolk established.”

The grassroots initiative was awarded the UNDP Equator Prize in 2010 for its mangrove reforestation work and its efforts to adapt the local practice of crab farming to reduce the effect of climate shocks and environmental disasters.  

Trowel works with local villages to promote tie-crab farming, a crab fattening technique which involves tying individual crabs to a bamboo pole with an attached buoy.  When farm flooding occurs – a regular occurrence which motivated replanting of the mangroves as a buffer – the crabs are securely fastened to the poles and do not wash out to sea.  In the event that the poles break during floods, the crabs can be recovered, as the buoys are easily visible from above the floodwater.  With this approach, the organization has doubled the average income of local fishing households.

“The tie crabs were not affected,” writes Rosario, “Even with strong waves coming, which were slowed by the mangrove forest, the fattening crabs remained intact in the tie-crab farms. They burrowed into the mud.”

Rosario is categorical in his assertion that planting trees saved lives and spared devastation of the local economy.

“The [situation] in Tacloban…was aggravated because the area is located near the open seas and there is no buffer in terms of mangrove trees that separate the sea from the land,” he writes. “The super typhoon hit the land with its strongest might and high speed because there is no mangrove forest that should have slowed it down.”

Healthy, properly-functioning ecosystems provide a range of services that are essential to human health, security, and wellbeing.  The Trowel experience speaks volumes to the value of investing in natural capital, and the public service imperative of doing so.  Not only does it make good environmental sense, it makes good economic sense.  In this instance, mangrove reforestation not only saved lives, it buffered against damage to local infrastructure and prevented potentially sizable losses to the local economy.  Governments looking at their public expenditures should take note – environmental restoration is a development and security issue of the highest order.     

Rosario closed his message by saying, “I hope the government now realizes the importance of mangrove forests in protecting people and livelihoods in coastal areas.”

For more information on Trowel Development Foundation, please visit

Contact information

Joseph Corcoran, Programme Officer, UNDP,

UNDP Around the world