Take Me Home: Filipino fans of the pop band One Direction are raising awareness of coastal and marine area conservation.

The sky was gloomy, but it was a bright day for Filipino fans of One Direction as they planted about 5,000 mangrove seedlings in the village of Bonbon, in Cebu Province during a recent A1D: Mangroves for Mankind event.

The mangrove planting took place on 24 January 2015 in the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape, the largest protected area in the Philippines. Eleven members from 1DPH came from Manila, Cebu, and Iloilo and joined 150 local partners from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), people's organizations, and the local government of Aloguinsan.

The event was a partnership between One Direction Philippines Fan Club (1DPH) and ADB’s Global Environment Facility-funded project for Coastal and Marine Resources Management in the Coral Triangle-Southeast Asia (CTI-SEA). The project is building climate resilience among coastal communities in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

Fans making a difference

"We as Juan Directioners encourage everyone to help improve the status of Tañon Strait. By planting mangroves, we are not only saving the environment, but also the community’s livelihood and future generations."

Helen Steiro, President of 1DPH

The fan club wants to bring more attention to Tañon Strait since mangrove forests in this protected seascape are increasingly at risk due to population pressure. In 2013, CTI-SEA estimated that there were only 5,000 hectares of mangroves or 0.01% live mangrove cover for the entire protected area of around 518,000 hectares. CTI-SEA is promoting mangrove planting as one of several climate change adaptation measures for coastal communities to protect the land from strong winds, tides, and storm surges.

The plantation program is easy to implement and encourages communities to learn about the value of mangroves to reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts.

“We as Juan Directioners want to positively influence the youth to improve the status of Tañon Strait. By planting mangroves, we are not only protecting the environment, but also sustaining the community’s livelihood and providing opportunities for future generations,” said Helen Steiro, president of 1DPH.

The group raised 6,000 Philippine pesos ($150) by selling shirts that they had designed to other 1DPH members. This amount was handed over to DENR’s people's organization partner, the Bonbon Fishermen’s Association, who will utilize the funds to maintain the planting site.

An ecological paradise

Tañon Strait lies between the islands of Negros and Cebu in the Central Visayas region. It serves as an important migration route for whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals, making it a top tourist destination for whale watchers. It is one of the country’s top 10 major fishing grounds supplying fish and related marine resources and was proclaimed a protected seascape in 1998.

Although DENR and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) have been rehabilitating the Tañon Strait since 2012, the involvement of the youth has created greater enthusiasm for the program.

CTI-SEA Team Leader Guillermo Morales welcomed the landmark initiative of 1DPH for Tañon Strait. “Given the sheer size of the youth sector, youth-led activities will have a vast awareness-raising effect concerning marine-protected areas. I hope that this collaboration will show what the youth can do in any endeavor, especially if supported by the local government,” said Morales.

Ecotourism: the new way forward

Jamaila Alvarado from the Bojo-Aloguinsan Eco-tourism Association (BAETAS) admitted that in the past, locals harvested mangroves for timber, firewood, and as feed for livestock. This depleted the mangroves, which serve as nursery grounds for many commercially important species of fish. Without healthy mangroves, the livelihood of cities and communities that depend on marine resources will be put at grave risk.

After an ecotourism training workshop organized by the local government in 2009, the community realized the importance of conservation in the context of their own vulnerability to climate change impacts and the need to build climate resilience to safeguard their future.

“We protect the environment and it comes back to us as income. We are thankful and appreciate the benefits of ecotourism,” added Alvarado.

BAETAS manages and maintains the mangrove forest in Bojo River and promotes environmental awareness through training and educational ecotourism. The estuarine river is home to 22 species of mangroves and 71 species of birds, 61 of which are endemic, while the rest are migratory.

Tapping into youthful enthusiasm

“I had the best time planting mangroves!” said Diane Berciles from 1DPH Cebu. “The project was a memorable fun-filled experience as we learned about mangroves and their role in conservation.  I also met new like-minded friends and we all want to be involved in similar activities again.”

A1D: Mangroves for Mankind project is proof that there is considerable talent and energy in fan clubs and other youth groups who are happy working for social and environmental projects that provide benefits to their communities.  It gives them an opportunity to combine their passion and be involved in a meaningful social activity. The result of this initiative augurs well for the future of the Coral Triangle.