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Safeguarding mangroves in Catanduanes with drones

Updated: Jul 16

Help.NGO, in partnership with Catanduanes State University and with support from Amazon Web Services (AWS), has embarked on a critical project for mangrove monitoring and assessments, particularly crucial given Catanduanes' vulnerability to natural hazards, most notably typhoons. As an island positioned on the eastern seaboard of the Philippines, Catanduanes frequently faces the initial impact of typhoons making landfall. The residents have historically adapted to these conditions, viewing typhoons as a part of their way of life. However, climate change is exacerbating the situation by intensifying the strength of these typhoons, leading to more severe impacts on the island. With the advent of stronger and more frequent extreme weather events, the recovery period for Catanduanes' communities is extending, often without sufficient respite between successive typhoons.

In response to these challenges, Help.NGO has committed to supporting the local communities and authorities in enhancing their resilience against such natural disasters. A significant component of this support is integrated into the Technology Advocacy and Resilience Programme, launched at the start of 2024. This initiative represents a collaborative effort among Help.NGO, Amazon Web Services, and Catanduanes State University, with the latter serving as the local research and climate change resilience partner.


A key feature of this programme is the utilization of advanced drone mapping technology to conduct comprehensive surveys of the mangrove fields in Catanduanes. This innovative approach aims not only to assess the current state of these vital ecosystems but also to identify areas where restoration and conservation efforts can be most effectively applied. By leveraging such technology, the partnership seeks to develop a deeper understanding of the role mangroves play in coastal protection, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity conservation, thereby informing strategies to bolster the island's resilience in the face of escalating climate challenges. Through these concerted efforts, Help.NGO and its partners are laying the groundwork for a more sustainable and resilient future for the communities of Catanduanes.


Integrating technology to minimize loss and damage during extreme weather events is a cornerstone of the Technology Advocacy and Resilience Programme. A critical element in enhancing community resilience against such challenges is the preservation and restoration of mangrove ecosystems.

Mangroves serve as a natural defense mechanism against storms, thanks to their dense root systems which are effective in dissipating wave energy and reducing the impact of storm surges. Furthermore, these ecosystems act as a buffer against strong winds, significantly mitigating damage to communities. A pivotal study by The Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA) in 2017 underscored the value of mangroves in disaster risk reduction. According to the study, the average cost of saving a life through the conservation of existing mangrove vegetation can reach up to USD 302,000. Additionally, the preservation of mangroves is associated with a considerable reduction in costs related to housing damages — around USD 53,000 for completely damaged homes and USD 46,000 for partially damaged ones.


Given these findings, the maintenance and rehabilitation of mangrove forests emerge as a priority area for support and intervention. Help.NGO is actively contributing to these efforts by focusing on the strategic use of technology and advocacy to reinforce the protective benefits of mangroves. Through our work, Help.NGO aims not only to safeguard the natural environment but also to significantly enhance the safety and resilience of communities facing the threat of extreme weather events. This approach highlights our commitment to leveraging innovative solutions in the fight against climate change and its impacts, ensuring that mangrove conservation remains a central pillar of their resilience-building initiatives.

Mangroves contribute significantly to coastal ecosystems and communities in various ways, further underlining their importance beyond just storm protection:


Biodiversity Hotspots: Catanduanes, recognized as one of the Philippines' most vital biodiversity hotspots, owes much of its ecological richness to its mangrove ecosystems. These mangroves provide essential nurseries, breeding grounds, and habitats for a wide array of plant and animal species, playing a crucial role in the sustenance of marine and terrestrial life. They offer critical nourishment, shelter, and breeding sites for numerous fish, crustaceans, birds, and mammals, thereby significantly enhancing biodiversity and ecological balance.


Carbon Sequestration: Mangroves are remarkably efficient at sequestering and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, with the capability to store up to five times as much organic carbon as tropical upland forests and up to ten times as much as other forest types. This remarkable capacity for carbon storage positions mangroves as key allies in the global effort to combat climate change by offsetting emissions and mitigating global warming.


Fisheries and Livelihoods: Mangroves support valuable fisheries and aquatic resources that are fundamental to local livelihoods. For instance, Catanduanes, once dubbed the Crab Capital of the Philippines, produced almost 120 metric tons of crabs at its peak in 2013, largely thanks to its mangrove habitats. Beyond mangrove crabs, the integration of mangrove aquaculture is crucial for local economies, serving as nurseries for wild capture fisheries, supporting shrimp farms, fish pens, and tourism, among others. These activities not only bolster food security but also provide sustainable income sources for local communities.

The initiative spearheaded a thorough evaluation of mangrove ecosystems throughout Catanduanes, leveraging drones and sophisticated drone processing software. This strategic approach was designed to track alterations in mangrove habitats caused by extreme weather phenomena, optimize the allocation of scarce mangrove seedling resources, and safeguard existing habitats from illegal activities such as logging and encroachment. Through these dedicated efforts, the programme sought to protect biodiversity and boost the resilience of coastal communities, thereby enhancing their defenses against the negative impacts of climate change.

In summary, the vigilant monitoring of mangroves in Catanduanes is an essential component in bolstering the resilience of local communities against the backdrop of climate change. By harnessing collaborative efforts and cutting-edge technologies like drone mapping, initiatives orchestrated by Help.NGO, Amazon Web Services, and Catanduanes State University are setting the stage for the development of climate-resilient and sustainable communities. This proactive approach promises not only to secure a more hopeful future for Catanduanes but also to serve as a model for coastal communities worldwide in the fight against climate change.

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