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People And Mangroves In The Philippines: Fifty Years Of Coastal Environmental Change

Bradley B. Walters

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Historical research has enhanced understanding of past human influences on forests and provides insights that can improve current conservation efforts. This paper presents one of the first detailed studies of mangrove forest history. Historical changes in mangroves and their use were examined in Bais Bay and Banacon Island, Philippines. Cutting to make space for fish ponds and residential settlement has dramatically reduced the distribution of mangroves in Bais, although forest has expanded rapidly near the mouth of the largest river where soils from nearby deforested hillsides have been deposited as sediments along the coast. Heavy cutting of mangroves for commercial sale of firewood occurred under minor forest product concessions in Bais and Banacon between the late 1930s and 1979. Cutting for domestic consumption of fuel and construction wood by local people has been widespread in both areas, although rates of cutting have varied in space and over time as a result of changing demographic pressures and in response to cutting restrictions imposed by firewood concessionaires, fish pond owners and government officials. People in both Bais and Banacon have responded to declining local forest availability by planting mangroves. Early motivations to plant reflected the desire to have a ready supply of posts for construction of fish weirs. Many have also planted to protect fishpond dykes and homes from storm damage, and increasing numbers now plant as a means to establish tenure claims over mangrove areas. However, planted stands have tended to be species monocultures and to bear only limited resemblance to natural mangrove forests. In contrast to many upland forests, opportunities for protection and restoration of mangroves are limited by virtue of a highly restricted natural distribution and by competing land uses that are likely to intensify in the future. Understanding historical patterns of change can be instructive to conservationists, but the future remains laden with uncertainties.