People and mangroves in the Philippines: fifty years of coastal environmental change
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B. B. Walters


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 (aquaculture) and residential settlement (coastal development) 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 (deforestation), 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 (aquaculture) 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 (coastal development) 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.

Main Results and Conclusions:
  • Banacon Isalnd Mangroves: commercial mangrove extraction caused local communities on Banacon Isalnd to begin planting their own mangrove stands for resource extraction (295-296).
    • “As of 1997, virtually all natural trees (Sonneratia  spp., Avicennia  spp. and Rhizophora  spp.) have been cut within 2–3 km of the village. In their place are approximately 300 ha of monoculture R. stylosa plantations” (296).
    • “Planting has…expanded the distribution of mangroves in places beyond their historic, natural range into nearby seagrass beds and mudflats. Thus, while the forest species diversity and structural complexity are far lower today, the actual forest area is probably greater” (296).
  • Bais Bay Mangroves: mangroves in this area were cut to make space for fishponds (aquaculture) (297) and residential settlements (298) as well as for firewood and construction materials (deforestation) (298-299). Mangrove wood uses include: bunsod posts, fuel wood, house construction, fence/pen construction, nipa roofing, miracle hole and Christmas trees. Mangroves were planted in this area to have a ready source of posts for bunsod construction, land tenure, commercial firewood resources, and protection around fishpond dykes from wind and waves (299-300).
  • Conclusions:
    • “While they have cut many mangroves, people living in Bais and Banacon have also planted millions of mangrove trees under their own initiative during the last 50 years. As a result, both areas are now showcased as national success stories in community-based mangrove management by governments who have recently modeled reforestation programmes after them (see Yao 1987; Melana et al.  2000)”(300).
    • “Dramatic productivity improvements (in terms of bunsod post production) are obtained from plantations. Some planters indicated that they have more incentive to plant now because government cutting restrictions are pushing the price of bakau wood higher”(301).
    • Resource substitution among mangrove firewood consumers in Bais has further the protection of mangrove forests in the area (301).
Works Cited:

Melana, D.M., Atchue, J., III, Yao, C.E., Edwards, R., Melana, E.E. & Gonzales, H.I. (2000) Mangrove Management Handbook. Manila, the Philippines: Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Cebu City, the Philippines: Coastal Resources Management Project: 96 pp.

Yao, C.E. (1987) Bakauan backyard for wind and tidal break.Canopy International 13(6): 7–8.