Coastal 500: Mayors from 8 nations swap ideas, best practices

Coastal 500: Mayors from 8 nations swap ideas, best practices

/ 05:35 AM June 05, 2024

Coastal 500: Mayors from 8 nations swap ideas, best practices

IMMERSION Some of the member mayors of Coastal 500 are given a tour of a mangrove forest in Del Carmen, Siargao Island, where they had their first “immersion” as a group last month. —GREGG YAN/CONTRIBUTOR

DEL CARMEN, SIARGAO—“This mangrove forest saved our town,” said Alfredo Corro II, mayor of Del Carmen, a coastal municipality on the island of Siargao in Mindanao.

Smashed by Typhoon “Odette” (international name: Rai) on Dec. 16, 2021, Siargao was left in shambles. With winds exceeding 260 kilometers an hour, Odette was almost as strong as “Yolanda” (Haiyan)—the world’s most powerful storm on record, which plowed through the central Philippines in 2013.


“These mangroves were once cut down for charcoal, but after Rai, people realized their importance. They helped shield us from the winds and waves of the typhoon, as they will for the storms yet to come,” Corro said as he addressed an audience of mayors and other local leaders from the Philippines and seven other nations, namely Indonesia, Micronesia, Palau, Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras and Mozambique.


Hosted by Siargao, they gathered here from May 26 to 29 as members of Coastal 500, a global network of government leaders who have pledged to protect their coastal waters and fisheries.

“Coastal 500 is the largest international platform for leaders of coastal communities to share their experiences with leaders facing similar issues,” explains Cynthia Castro, manager of the Coastal 500 program. “Since our launch in 2021, we’ve grown to 160 mayors and 150 fisheries leaders. We aim to have 500 coastal champions by the end of 2025.”

Coastal 500 members typically come from coastal communities with high biodiversity and natural productivity, but are imperiled by climate change, overfishing, pollution, reclamation and the human activities of this modern age. All members have taken an oath to protect and restore their nearshore waters, while improving the lives of their constituents.

Mayors from different nations continuously compared notes. “We have similar mangroves in Indonesia,” said Bachrun Labuta, regent of Indonesia’s Muna district. “But unlike here in the Philippines, many people do not yet appreciate their importance, especially for blocking storms and sheltering juvenile fish.”

Climate adaptation

What is obvious to one nation might not be apparent to another. The Philippines for example, knows how to deal with typhoons, withstanding around 20 yearly. Its solutions range from planting and managing natural storm surge barriers like mangrove forests to relocating vital infrastructure like road networks to less exposed areas.

“We don’t experience many big typhoons in Indonesia,” said Ray Chandra Purnama of Rare Indonesia. Despite being the world’s largest archipelago of over 17,000 islands, Indonesia sits well below the Pacific Ocean’s often-brutal typhoon belt. “We are not as well-versed in preparing for storms, though we are feeling the effects of climate change through the changing migration patterns of fish, making fishing unpredictable.”


During their weeklong immersion in Siargao and later in Metro Manila (from May 30 to June 1), Coastal 500 members shared relevant experiences and cultural practices.

“In Palau we have a custom called Bul, where tribal chiefs can stop a particular practice—say, the killing of sea turtles or the overharvesting of certain types of fish,” says Kevin Mesebeluu of Rare Palau, who formerly worked with the island-nation’s top-billed tourism program. “We also take ecotourism seriously, going so far as to make visitors sign a declaration that they will never harm our marine life. This declaration is stamped right on their passports.”

Mindful tourism has paid off swimmingly for Palau, providing 53 percent of the country’s gross domestic product—and that’s no bull.

Crosscutting issues

Many issues prevail across regions. “One problem stinks above all in my coastal city—garbage that flows downriver from the upper provinces,” explains Hugo Sarceño, mayor of the city of Puerto Barrios in Guatemala. “To prevent pollution from flowing to sea, we use nets and river booms to trap floating garbage, making manual cleanups easier.”

Riverine garbage is an issue faced worldwide, from Africa to the Caribbean.

“One of our biggest challenges is the presence of industrial fishers in our waters, which is 12 nautical miles or 22 kilometers from our coast,” shares Juan Ramon Manaiza, mayor of the municipality of Limón in Honduras.

The David and Goliath-like conflict between commercial and small-scale or artisanal fishers is a common theme in areas where fish yields are waning.

Financial security

Funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, Oak and the Swedish Postcode Foundations, Coastal 500 is the brainchild of international nonprofit Rare, which was founded in 1973 and works in 60 countries.

Rare has helped establish over 700 Savings Clubs in six countries, creating a financial security net for hundreds of fishing communities.

“Having accessible cash builds resilience not just to climate change, but the unpredictability of life in general. We are trying to strengthen social capital and protect coastal assets,” explains Christopher Lomboy of Rare Philippines. “If fishers have cash during a family emergency, then they will have fewer reasons to resort to illegal and potentially destructive fishing—protecting them and our coasts at the same time.”

Patterned after the village savings and loan associations (VSLA) model of many countries, Savings Clubs reach small-scale fishing communities that do not have access to formal financial services, the traditional requirements of which are often too imposing for fishers.

Feeling less alone

By pooling together funds, members have a readily accessible pool for emergencies and difficult times such as natural calamities, unexpected health problems in the family, or a poor catch due to bad weather.

The connections forged by Coastal 500 lead not just to the exchange of ideas, but real friendships. The trio of mayors Mary Jean Te (Libertad, Antique), Eniego Jabagat (Bindoy, Negros Oriental) and Edreluisa Calonge (Mabuhay, Zamboanga Sibugay) was inseparable.

“I realized just how progressive Philippine laws are, allowing our local communities to safeguard our coasts,” Calonge noted. “Other nations have a top-down approach that doesn’t make it easy for coastal residents to feel ownership for the sea.”

“It was comforting to know that the problems we’re facing are being encountered in other countries,” said Elton Júnior dos Reis Paixão, secretary of Maracanã in Brazil. “Because of our immersion and informal exchanges, we now feel less alone and ready to develop new solutions.”

“Coastal communities all over the world have a lot in common,” says Rocky Sanchez Tirona, managing director for Rare’s Fish Forever program. “They work within different contexts of policy, governance, culture and resource availability, but sometimes, local leaders just need to feel like they’re not alone.”

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With its first field immersion completed, Coastal 500 is getting ready to expand its membership. “We’re building the learning resources and communications platforms that can benefit local leaders even in areas where Rare isn’t working,” says Castro. These will be ready for new members by the end of the year.

TAGS: Coastal 500, environment

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