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conserving mangrove ecosystems in the philippines: transcending disciplinary, institutional and geographic borders. by joshua far
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Conserving Mangrove Ecosystems in the Philippines: transcending
disciplinary, institutional and geographic borders.
By Joshua Farleya*, David Batkerb, Isabel de la Torrec and Thomas
aUniversity of Vermont
bEarth Economics
cIndustrial Shrimp Action Network
*Corresponding author
Humans are rapidly depleting critical ecosystems and the life support
functions they provide, increasing the urgency of developing effective
conservation tools. To develop such tools, we must move beyond narrow
disciplinary borders and see the whole conservation picture. Academics
must move beyond the institutional borders of academia to work with
government and civil society to turn research into action. We must
learn to communicate effectively across disciplines and across
institutions to convey our knowledge to people with the power and
authority to act on it. We must also recognize that when facts are
uncertain, stakes are high, decisions urgent and human values
important, the conventional scientific method may no longer be
appropriate. While the conservation and environmental management
literature supports these assertions, there are few descriptions of
approaches to conservation that meet this prescription. Using a case
study of the conversion of mangrove ecosystems to shrimp aquaculture,
the paper lays out such an approach. We worked in close collaboration
with academics, nongovernment organizations, local government and
local communities to organize a workshop in Puerto Princessa, Palawan,
Philippines. The primary objectives of the workshop were: (1) to train
participants in the basic principles of ecological economics and its
goals of sustainable scale, just distribution and efficient
allocation; (2) learn from the local participants and participating
scientists about the problems surrounding conversion of mangrove
ecosystems to shrimp aquaculture; and (3) draw on the skills and
knowledge of all participants to develop potential solutions to the
problem. We presented our results to the press and local government,
which acted on them, shutting down the aquaculture ponds we studied to
conserve the threatened ecosystem. Moving beyond narrow disciplinary
and institutional borders played a critical role in achieving this
outcome. We believe our approach is useful and replicable, but
conclude that conservation efforts on the necessary scale will require
effective international collaboration, moving beyond political borders
as well.
Humans, like all species, depend for their survival on the life
support functions of healthy ecosystems. Humans also depend for their
survival on an economic system that transforms resources provided by
nature into essential goods and services, but in the process
diminishes ecosystem health and with it the capacity to sustain life.
With the advent of the industrial revolution, economic production of
nonessential goods and services began to catastrophically alter the
global ecosystems that provide life support functions, thus
threatening our species’ survival. New transdisciplinary fields such
as complexity theory, environmental management, environmental history,
political ecology, conservation biology, and ecological economics
along with tools such as systems thinking and modeling have helped us
to understand how ecosystems generate vital ecosystem services, how
important such services are, and how humans interact with them. The
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) recently concluded that human
activities are seriously degrading ecosystems that provide vital life
support functions for humans and others species. The problem we face
now is how to conserve the ecosystems on which we depend for our
survival. The stakes are high, and the need to act is urgent. What are
other key facets of this problem, and what can be done to address it?
The problem of conservation is wickedly complex, involving natural
systems, social systems and human values (Ludwig, 2001; Berkes, 2004).
In many cases, we are dealing with unique, evolving ecosystems, a
sample size of one, affected by ever changing human technologies,
making it very difficult or even impossible to reduce uncertainty
(Faber and Proops, 1990).. Under such circumstances, the conventional
scientific approach is inadequate (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1993). We
understand the general problem and know (to some extent) what to
conserve, but we don’t know how to implement conservation and
restoration in the real world on the scale necessary to preserve the
life support functions on which we depend. In conservation science,
research is of limited value if it can't be translated into action
(Orr, 1994). We must transcend the boundaries between research and
activism. While there is no single best solution, and no single best
path to achieving a solution, there are a number of factors likely to
contribute to acceptable solutions.
First, we must recognize that conservation is a multifaceted problem.
Humans are an integral part of ecosystems, and societies have
coevolved with them (Norgaard, 1994; Gowdy, 1994). Understanding the
socialecological system requires synthesis across the social and
natural sciences (Berkes and Folke, 1998; Functowicz and Ravetz,
1993). there is a strong call for interdisciplinary research in the
conservation science literature (see for example SanchezAzofeifa et
al., 2005; Brewer, 2001; Czech, 2002; Mascia et al., 2003).
Unfortunately, universities generally take a narrow, disciplinary
approach to education. Analysis of textbooks and syllabi in
conservation science shows little evidence of interdisciplinary
training (Niesenbaum and Lewis, 2003), and interdisciplinary research
continues to confront serious obstacles in academia (Campbell, 2005).
Successful conservation efforts must develop frameworks for
interdisciplinary research and training. The problem is that educators
who have not conducted interdisciplinary research have a difficult
time training students to do so, and students educated within narrow
disciplinary boundaries have a difficult time communicating with
experts in other disciplines and engaging in interdisciplinary
research. Effective solutions demand that we transcend disciplinary
Second, conservation requires interinstitutional collaboration:
Viable conservation strategies require integrated effort from
scientists, conservation professionals, community stakeholders,
government, nongovernmental organizations and the business sector
(Farley, Erickson and Daly, 2005). When facts are uncertain and values
matter, the local knowledge and values of the communities most closely
linked to specific ecosystems must complements scientific expertise
(Berkes and Folke, 1998; Functowicz and Ravetz, 1993). Similarly,
interinstitutional alliances are necessary to muster the political
resources necessary to challenge the dominant economic growth
paradigm, for ultimately conservation cannot succeed in the face of
continued growth in population and material economic production
(Johns, 2003; Czech, 2003; Daly, 1997). Unfortunately, conservation
scientists have largely failed to integrate their scientific knowledge
into specific social, political and economic contexts so that it
actually leads to conservation (Bawa et al., 2004). The recent
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report (2005), conservation groups and
academics have all made a strong call for interinstitutional
collaboration (Farnsworth, 2004): What is lacking is the dissemination
of an effective framework for promoting it. Effective solutions demand
that we transcend institutional boundaries.
Third, better communication skills are essential. Interdisciplinary
research demands that scientists learn to communicate with each other,
but unfortunately the dominant approach in academia is to train
separate disciplines to use mutually unintelligible languages riddled
with jargon (Farley, Erickson and Daly, 2005). Scientists must also
learn to communicate to decision makers and the broader public
(Farnsworth and Ellison, 1997), but public communication skills rarely
are part of the scientific curriculum. Effective solutions demand
effective communication.
Fourth, we must recognize the limitations of conventional science in
the field of conservation. Even seemingly similar ecosystems often
have unique characteristics, and conservationists often focus
attention on ecosystems with large numbers of endemic species ore
other special characteristis: it is there very uniqueness that makes
them worth preserving. We often know little about the systems, lack
baseline data for comparisons, and suffer from a sample size of one
which makes statistically significant observations impossible. Under
such conditions, uncertainty cannot be resolved, reducing uncertainty
may take far more time than is available, and delaying conservation
decisions while we gather more data can be an irreversible choice.
Typically, the decision to conserve or not conserve an ecosystem has
different impacts on different groups, including future generations,
bringing up ethical questions of fairness, justice and attitudes
towards risk. Under such conditions there can be no objective
decisionmaking rule, and the scientific method must be expanded to
integrate the knowledge and values of those most affected by the
problem, even when it is anecdotal in nature—an approach that has been
dubbed postnormal science (Ravetz and Functowicz, 1993), adaptive
collaborative management, or adaptive management (Schelhas and others,
2001; Buck and others, 2001). Post normal science and its allied
approaches provide a solid theoretical framework for for transcending
disciplinary and institutional boundaries.
This paper presents the results from a transdisciplinary
workshop/fieldcourse in ecological economics (see Farley, this issue,
for a brief description of the field) funded by the John D. and
Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation that took place in Palawan, the
Philippines, from January 216, 2002. The immediate goal of the
workshop was to learn from local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)
and communities about the problems presented by the conversion of
mangrove ecosystems to shrimp and fish aquaculture, and to apply the
principles of ecological economics to solving them. Our broader goal
across the three workshops was to develop a framework for conservation
efforts that: 1) transcends disciplinary and institutional boundaries;
2) stresses communication across disciplines, institutions and
geographical regions; and 3) adopts the approach of postnormal
science, in order to 4) translate academic and local knowledge and
community goals into effective conservation projects. We believe this
approach is necessary for solving complex problems and for training
people to solve them. While our framework led to success in this
specific case study, we recognize that it might prove inadequate in
other circumstances because it fails to account for ecosystem values
extending beyond local political jurisdictions. We therefore conclude
with a call for tackling the more complicated task of transcending
political boundaries in conservation efforts, which we believe is
another prerequisite for successful conservation efforts on the scale
1 The Problem of Mangrove Conversion

The interaction between the human economy and mangrove ecosystems
offers an excellent case study of a wickedly complex problem best
addressed through a transdisciplinary participatory problemsolving
Healthy mangrove ecosystems provide an abundance of goods and services
of critical importance to humans and other species, examples of which
are offered in table 1. In contrast to human made capital, these
benefits are provided in perpetuity with no depreciation or
maintenance costs, continually renewed by solar energy.
Ecosystem Service
Provision by Mangroves
Gas Regulation
Mangroves store CO2 and growing mangroves can create O2, forests can
clean SO2 from the atmosphere.
Climate Regulation
Mangroves play an important role in global climate regulation through
carbon sequestration. Mangrove litter falls into the ocean, where its
carbon content is sequestered much more effectively than in
terrestrial systems. As a result, mangroves sequester up to 1.5 tons
of carbon/ha/year Ong, 1993). They also play a role in regional
climate regulation through evapotranspiration and cloud formation,
affecting both rainfall and transport of stored heat energy to other
regions by wind. Microclimate is regulated through the impacts of
shade and insulation on local humidity and temperature extremes.
Disturbance Regulation
Mangroves buffer the impacts of storms and even tsunamis on adjacent
terrestrial communities and ecosystems (Kremmer, 2005). By slowing the
rate of water flow and allowing silt to settle out, they may reduce
the impact of flooding on adjacent marine ecosystems such as sea grass
beds and coral reefs.
Supply of raw materials
Mangroves transform sunlight, carbon dioxide and organic matter into
durable, water resistant timber for building and charcoal, some
species have bark that can be used as a dye, and they provide habitat
for a variety of food resources such as crabs and mangrove worms.
Water supply
Evapotranspiration can increase local rainfall.
Waste absorption capacity
In addition to their role in slowing water flow and allowing sediments
to settle, mangroves can absorb large amounts of waste flowing from
land, further protecting marine habitats.
Erosion control & sediment retention
Mangrove root systems stabilize land against the erosive forces of the
sea, and retain sediment flowing from land.
Nutrient cycling
Mangroves capture and reuse nutrients that might otherwise pollute
marine ecosystems.
Mangroves are fertilized by insects, bats and moths, thus helping
support the wild populations of these highly valuable pollinators.
Biological control
Insect and bird species harbored by mangroves are likely to prey on
insect pests
Refugia or habitat
Published estimates of commercial seafood species that depend on
mangrove ecosystems for at least some stage of their life cycle range
from 67% in eastern Australia (Untawale, 1986) to 80% in Florida
(Hamilton and Snedacker, 1984), and nearly 100% of the shrimp catch in
ASEAN countries (Singh et al., 1994, all cited in Ronnback, 1999).
Mangroves provide vital habitat for a wide range of other species, and
are a critical nesting site for hundreds of bird species. They create
the conditions essential for the reproduction of many of the species
they contain. Mangroves support a vast variety of marine life in
complicated food webs supported by the detritus they generate.
Genetic resources
Mangroves contain many unique biological materials, many of which have
medicinal uses.
Boating, birdwatching, fishing, etc.
Mangroves have aesthetic, artistic, educational, spiritual and
scientific values
Table 1: Examples of ecosystem goods and services provided by
Adapted from Costanza et. al., 1997 and la Torre and Barnhizer, 2003
In spite of the benefits they provide, mangrove ecosystems are being
lost at an alarming rate. Once covering some three quarters of
tropical and subtropical coastlines (Farnsworth and Ellison, 1997),
today they cover perhaps one quarter of tropical coastlines (World
Resources Institute, 1996), and about half of the remainder is in a
degraded condition. An estimated 35% of global mangrove cover has been
lost in the last 2 decades alone (Valiela et al., 2001). In the
Philippines, some three quarters of mangroves have been lost since
record keeping began in 1918 (Primavera, 2000).
One of the leading causes of mangrove loss currently is conversion to
shrimp and fish aquaculture, in which coastal mangrove forests are
cleared for ponds, seeded with shrimp larvae, and provided with fish
meal feed in order to grow shrimp and fish to adult size at high
densities. Aquaculture pollutes local waters with effluents and, by
pumping vast amounts of fresh groundwater, often draws saltwater into
coastal aquifers, damaging the water supply of local communities.
Following 39 years of production, intensive shrimp aquaculture
operations typically succumb to disease and pollution and are then
abandoned (de la Torre and Barnhizer, 2003). Aquaculture is
responsible for the loss of at least half of the Philippines’
mangroves (Primavera, 2000).
As a result, shrimp aquaculture has become highly controversial. For
investors, the international demand for shrimp makes aquaculture a
lucrative opportunity in spite of falling shrimp prices. For
developing nations, shrimp aquaculture brings in export earnings and
foreign exchange. Yet coastal communities in over 40 nations have come
into sharp conflict with the shrimp aquaculture industry as wild
fisheries and other ecosystem goods and services have declined and
reduced the incomes of coastal communities as a result of shrimp
aquaculture expansion (de la Torre and Barnhizer, 2003).
Our project focused on community conflict with shrimp aquaculture in
the municipality of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, the Philippines (see
figure 1). We worked on two specific case studies in small, remote and
fairly poor communities adjacent to large mangrove areas. In the
community of Tagabinet, an outside group (whose exact identity was
difficult to ascertain) had recently reestablished a previously
abandoned aquaculture project and begun clearing old growth mangroves
to expand it. In Babuyan, local community members were working to
install shrimp farms in previously cleared mangrove ecosystems. Owing
to space limitations, this article focuses primarily on the Tagabinet
case study. Tagabinet is located on Ulugan Bay in the municipality of
Puerto Princesa on Palawan Island (see figure 1). Ulugan Bay accounts
for 15% of all mangrove forests in the Philippines (UNESCO, 2002).
Tagabinet is a relatively isolated, poor rural community. The mangrove
forest in question is pristine, old growth forest near the St. Paul
Underground River National Park, a World Heritage Area—one of the best
preserved ecosystems on one of the best preserved islands in the

Figure 1: Palawan Island, The Philippines, showing the city of Puerto
Princesa and a blowup of the Ulugan Bay region, showing Tagabinet
(UNESCO, 2002).
2 Methodology

The transdisciplinary approach to applied problem solving operates on
the principle that the specific problem determines the appropriate
theories and methodologies to apply. There is no generic blueprint for
all conservation projects. To understand the problem of mangrove
conversion and seek effective solutions, we developed an applied,
problem solving workshop/fieldcourse that blended elements of a
“Scientific Atelier” with an ecological economic “skillshare”.
The Scientific Atelier is an adaptive, selfdesigning, collaborative
problemsolving process pioneered by the Gund Institute for Ecological
Economics. This approach brings students and faculty from several
disciplines together in problemfocused, adaptive, workshop settings.
The courses focus on a particular research topic and produce academic
journal articles with practical policy implications that represent a
new transdisciplinary synthesis of the problem. The approach assumes
“peertopeer” interactions among the participants, and all
participants share the common goal of addressing the chosen research
topic from their particular perspective and sharing and learning about
other perspectives. Course organizers choose the research topic and
assemble a number of component resources that are available for use
during the course. These resources consist of lectures on specific
topics, computer modeling hardware and software, reference data and
literature, training in collaborative problemsolving, and library
resources. Research is driven by the specific problem rather than a
particular set of disciplinary theories and methods, but an effective
workshop requires that appropriate disciplinary knowledge and tools be
The ecological economic skillshare is a similar process developed by
the Asia Pacific Environmental Exchange in which ecological economists
learn from activist organizations and community groups about the
issues they are tackling, educate the activist organizations on the
principles of ecological economics, then work together to apply
principles to practice in order to solve specific problems. To a
greater extent than the atelier, the skillshare addresses problems
identified by the local community, stresses local community and
stakeholder participation, and emphasizes implementation of solutions
over publications. Adding to both approaches, our workshop integrated
a webbased teaching module to provide participants with essential
background information (
An interdisciplinary group of university professors from the
University of Vermont Gund Institute for Ecological Economics (GIEE)
collaborated with two international nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs), the Asia Pacific Environmental Exchange (APEX) and the
Industrial Shrimp Action Network (ISANet), to organize an
atelier/skillshare focused on the impact of industrial shrimp
aquaculture on mangrove ecosystems, fisheries and local communities in
SouthEast Asia, immediately establishing a transinstitutional
approach. APEX and ISANet used their extensive contacts in the
Philippines to arrange local partnerships with three other NGOs: the
Philippines Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM, the largest NGO in
the Philippines), the Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC),
and Tambuyog (a Filipino NGO working on coastal resource management
issues). These local partners identified the island of Palawan in the
Philippines as an appropriate site for the workshop. The City of
Puerto Princesa under Mayor Edward Hagedorn and the Palawan State
Technical College also joined as organizers, cosponsors and
participants. ELAC identified the communities of Tagabinet and
Babuyan, where it was already working, as appropriate case studies.
It is important to emphasize that while the GIEE, APEX and ISANET
decided on the general focus of the workshop and the initial selection
of local partners, it was our local partners who identified the
specific problems, sites and ultimate goals. Our objective was not to
parachute in to study a problem for two weeks, but rather to
contribute our skills and resources to ongoing local NGO efforts, thus
ensuring solid background preparation, community involvement, and
Selected through a competitive process, participants came from 6
continents (34 Filipinos, 20 internationals) and included students,
professors, NGO staff, government officials, and lawyers.
Collectively, these participants had expertise in fisheries,
economics, ecology, environmental education, ecotourism, hydrology,
tropical coastal biology, shrimp aquaculture, ecological restoration,
systems modeling, GIS, law and communication. About 100 other people
participated in portions of the workshop. Organizing the workshop
consisted of identifying the primary issues, partners, format and
background information which were made available on the Web. All
participants were required to review the website to acquire essential
background information. ELAC identified sites and key questions and
built local commitment and participation.
Our approach emphasized analysis of the component parts of the
problems, synthesis to understand how the parts interact to form a
whole system, and communication of the results to each other, decision
makers and the broader public. Through communication we also intended
to make our results useful to other communities and decisionmakers in
Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The primary objectives of the workshop were: (1) to train participants
in the basic principles of ecological economics and its goals of
sustainable scale, just distribution and efficient allocation; (2)
learn from the local participants and participating scientists about
the problems surrounding conversion of mangrove ecosystems to shrimp
aquaculture; and (3) draw on the skills and knowledge of all
participants to develop potential solutions to the problem.
3.1 Narrative of the project.

Participants began the workshop with an intensive threeday
“immersion” in the issues. Presentations covered the impacts on local
people affected by shrimp aquaculture, the perspective of the shrimp
industry and government officials, global statistics and patterns of
investment and trade in shrimp, the social and environmental impacts
of shrimp aquaculture in other countries and regions of the
Philippines, the ecology of Palawan’s mangroves, the natural and
political history of Palawan, and a basic training in ecological
economics. The immersion continued with two days of site visits in
Palawan hosted by ELAC, Tambuyog and the City of Puerto Princessa to
shrimp aquaculture sites (Tagabinet and Babuyan), old growth
mangroves, local coastal communities, and St. Paul’s Underground River
National Park, adjacent to Tagabinet.
With this transdisciplinary informational foundation, groups formed
around specific aspects of the problems of primary concern to the
Tagabinet and Babuyan communities. The initial task of each group was
to analyze a specific component of the problem, such as the ecological
impacts of conversion and a qualitative and quantitative valuation of
services lost, community attitudes, the economic benefits and risks of
shrimp aquaculture, the distribution of both economic and ecological
costs and benefits, alternative means of earning a livelihood, legal
issues, environmental education, ecotourism, mangrove restoration and
so on. Groups encompassed the full diversity of participants and
included group facilitators.
Under the circumstance of the project, stakeholder engagement was
critical, particularly so in the absence of any objectively 'optimal'
outcome. In addition, we hypothesized that the more that stakeholders
were involved with the project, the more likely they were to find
research results to be credible and act on them. However, we also had
to be aware that the more involved stakeholders had more to gain or
lose from any particular outcome. Information from disinterested
stakeholders therefore carried considerable weight. As outsiders newly
arrived in the region, it would have been difficult to establish a
trusting relationship with community members and gather the necessary
information, but by partnering with ELAC, we were able to use the data
it had gathered and take advantage of the social capital it had built
with the community.
Clearing of the mangrove and dike construction was taking place as we
were studying the problem, threatening the irreversible loss of vast
expanses of the ecosystem and all the services it provided. There was
no time for sophisticated scientific assessments. If we did not come
to concrete conclusions during the workshop and somehow implement
them, it would be too late. Under such circumstances, a
transdisciplinary, transinstitutional approach was essential, and if
we failed to transcend the boundaries between research and activism,
our knowledge acquired would only apply to a system no longer in
existence. Adjusting to the urgency of the situation and the uncertain
nature of the facts, we were forced to rely on anecdotal information
provided by informal interviews with community members and local
workshop partners. We supplemented local knowledge with the results of
scientific research on similar systems elsewhere. We strove for
optimal ignorance—gathering only the minimum information needed, as
best we could judge, to assess the situation and propose a course of
action. Because stakes were high, we sought to use triangulation
wherever possible—when 3 or more separate sources or disciplinary
perspectives agreed, information carried more weight (Farley, Erickson
and Daly, 2005). We also sought to avoid irreversible outcomes, which
in this case meant that arguments for inaction had to bear the burden
of proof.
Analysis was interspersed with synthesis, understanding how the
various parts of the system fit together in order to suggest policies
that would promote a sustainable, just, and efficient use of the
mangrove forest. Our approach was for all of the working groups to
present their results to each other in the evenings following field
work. Experts in systems modeling integrated the results into computer
simulations of the ecological economic system that provided a clear
picture of the whole system and helped us identify key feedback loops
as well as places to intervene in the system to produce desirable
3 Results and Discussion

Though we gathered considerable information, we report only on what
proved most important to the project's concrete outcome. This includes
the benefits derived from healthy mangroves as compared to those of
shrimp aquaculture, to whom those benefits accrued, the legal status
of the deforestation, and its irreversibility. As the nature of the
problem forced us to integrate original but often anecdotal research
with the published scientific literature, we present both here as
results of the project.
Healthy mangroves provide both ecosystem goods (raw materials, or
elements of ecosystem structure) and ecosystem services (those
ecosystem functions of value to humans (Costanza and others, 1997;
Daily, 1997). Community members depended directly on the mangrove
ecosystem for small amounts of building materials, mud crabs,
‘mangrove worms’ – a local delicacy – and other resources.
Additionally, a small indigenous community lived on the borders of the
mangrove forest in question, and relied heavily on its resources.
Mangroves provide fish indirectly by serving as nursery for most of
the regions commercial fish species, and fishing is one of the main
sources of income in Ulugan Bay. Mangroves also help sustain fisheries
by capturing pollutants and sediments in water runoff, thus protecting
coral reefs and other critical marine habitats. Though no specific
studies were found for Ulugan Bay, Naylor and others (2001) estimate
that for every kilo of shrimp harvested from shrimp ponds in Thailand,
446 grams are lost from nearshore fisheries alone. In the
Philippines, 1.7 billion milkfish fry for stocking fishponds are
captured annually in the wild, and an estimated 10 billion fry of
other species are destroyed in the process. Recognizing that
aquaculture ponds often have a short life expectancy, foul surrounding
ecosystems with their waste, and frequently transmit diseases to wild
populations, it is quite likely that intact mangrove ecosystems
actually produce more seafood when intact than when converted to
shrimp ponds—not to mention that shrimp are carnivores, and require on
average nearly 3kilos of fishmeal to produce one kilo of shrimp
(Naylor and others, 2001).
In addition to renewable production of ecosystem goods, mangroves
provide the vital service of protecting nearby communities against
storms, tsunamis and wave surges. The importance of this service was
made transparent by the 2004 tsunami, where numerous studies showed
that loss of life and property was significantly less in communities
protected by mangroves (DahdouhGuebas and others, 2005; Danielsen and
others, 2005). The Tagabinet mangroves also contributed to the
spectacular beauty of the area, and hence played a role in a growing
ecotourism industry. There is a current initiative to develop
communitybased sustainable tourism in the region (UNESCO, 2002).
Aside from direct benefits to the Tagabinet community, their mangrove
ecosystem provided a number of regional and global services. Mangroves
sequester large amounts of carbon, and provide vital habitat for a
number of terrestrial and marine species, including many that are
threatened. Balmford et al. (2002) found that if we account for these
ecosystem services as well, the net present value of intact mangroves
is approximately four times greater than shrimp aquaculture ponds.
Conversion of the mangroves to shrimp aquaculture directly threatened
these values. Even though Philippine laws explicitly prohibit the
cutting of mangroves, the Department of Agriculture in the Philippines
leases coastal lands at very low rates to private owners who
subsequently clear mangroves for aquaculture. (Personal communication,
Gerthie MayoAnda, ELAC). A government lease for an existing shrimp
and fishpond in the mangroves near Tagabinet expired in 1999, and was
not renewed. The pond was abandoned. A group from outside the
community purchased the fishpond, and then in 2002 began to expand it,
illegally clearing 14 hectares of mangrove and constructing large
dikes to create ponds, a process which threatened the remaining
mangroves by disrupting hydrological flows. This high intensity
aquaculture was profitable, but with a short life expectancy, and only
employed a handful of local people (though building the dikes employed
more people for a brief period). Virtually all aquaculture shrimp
production was exported, earning foreign exchange income. From a short
term economic perspective, aquaculture can seem very desirable.
Though intensive aquaculture is often short lived, mangrove
destruction is not. A working group found that former mangrove forests
that had been cleared 60 years earlier failed to recover even after
decades of abandonment, evidence of changed hydrology and loss of
essential substrates. In many cases, even mangrove restoration efforts
showed little success—the rate of growth in one of these plots was so
slow that Mayor Hagedorn referred to it as his bonsai mangrove forest.
Our task was to explain a puzzling dynamic: Healthy mangrove forests
generated a sustainable flow of ecological, social and economic
benefits indefinitely, constantly renewed by solar energy. In
contrast, conversion to aquaculture was an unsustainable, short term
enterprise that sacrificed ecological and social benefits in return
for profits from seafood production, but over the long run failed to
produce even as much seafood as the intact system. Why, then, did
conversion occur?
We came to an interesting conclusion that directly contradicted some
of the dominant theories in ecological economics and resource
management. In his seminal work on the tragedy of the commons, Garret
Hardin (1968) showed that when everyone has open access to a rival
resource (i.e. one for which consumption by one individual precludes
consumption by another: If I catch a fish or cut down a tree, it is no
longer available for you to cut down), there is no incentive for
individuals to conserve it, as the benefits of conservation would be
shared by all, while the benefits of extraction are captured by the
individual. Hardin suggested private property rights or ‘mutual
coercion mutually agreed upon’ as the solution. However, the dynamic
in the Tagabinet mangrove was entirely different. The mangrove had
provided for the Tagabinet community for generations without private
ownership. It was only when the mangrove became de facto private
property that conversion occurred. On closer inspection, this dynamic
makes perfect sense: If aquaculture ponds were not privately owned,
anyone could take the shrimp they produce, and conversion to
aquaculture would not occur.
The answer to this apparent paradox lies in the distribution of
benefits. The benefits from ecosystem services accrue to the local,
regional and global communities. The owners of the Tagabinet
aquaculture ponds lived in Manila, and would scarcely notice the loss
of these services. Even if healthy mangroves produce more seafood than
aquaculture ponds, the seafood produced will be caught by hundreds of
fishermen in the nearby coastal communities. In contrast, the returns
to shrimp aquaculture are captured entirely by the owner of the ponds.
In economic theory, a rational, profit maximizing individual will
attempt to privatize benefits while ignoring social costs, and this is
exactly what happened in Tagabinet’s mangroves. In contrast to the
tragedy described by Hardin, shrimp aquaculture is an instance of the
tragedy of the noncommons (Farley, this issue), defined as a
situation in which private ownership leads to unsustainable, unjust
and inefficient resource allocation.
There are two reasons this tragedy of the noncommons emerges in the
case of mangroves. First, while it is possible to create private
property rights to mangrove forests themselves, it is impossible to
create such rights to most of the ecosystem services they generate. If
benefits created by a resource cannot be owned, they cannot be sold in
markets, and profit maximizing managers will ignore the benefit in
question. The result in mangrove ecosystems is ecologically
unsustainable rates of conversion to shrimp aquaculture. The second
reason is that many of the critical resources produced by mangroves
are nonrival. A nonrival resource is one for which use of the
resource does not deplete it, so that use by one person does not
affect use by another. For example, when one individual benefits from
the role of the mangrove in protecting against storm surges, it in no
way reduces the amount of protection left for another person. Though a
fisherman harvesting fish reduces the amount of fish available for
another fisherman to harvest, it has no impact on the capacity of the
mangrove to serve as a nursery, or to purify water and protect the
health of the coral reef. When additional use does not deplete the
quantity of a resource or benefit available, then the resource is not
scarce in economic terms: rationing through prices will result in
inefficient levels of consumption, and market allocation (i.e. private
ownership), even when possible, is inappropriate.
How then should mangrove ecosystems and their benefits be owned and
allocated? Here we considered the just distribution of the resource.
Mangrove forests are created by nature and not through the labor,
capital investments, or entrepreneurial ability of any individual. The
ecosystem services that mangroves provide are naturally distributed
more or less equally to all individuals within the spatial range of
the service in question. Markets, in contrast, allocate resources to
those with the highest demand, where demand is preferences weighted by
income. In other words, markets allocate according to the principle of
one dollar one vote, but ecosystem services are more justly allocated
according to the principle of one person, one vote. It would seem then
that ecosystem services generated by mangroves should be allocated by
means of a participatory democratic process rather than a plutocratic
(market) process (Farley, this issue). In other words, it should be up
to the Tagabinet community to decide on the macroallocation problem:
how much mangrove ecosystem should be conserved to provide nonmarket
ecosystem services vital to the community, and how much should be
converted to market uses.
4 Communication and Outcomes

No matter how brilliant the analysis and synthesis, it will do nothing
if not effectively communicated to those with the power and authority
to act. But this is not the only communication challenge faced by
conservation scientists. Conservation is an interdisciplinary problem
requiring collaboration between community members, scientists,
nongovernment organizations, government agencies, and others. These
sectors must similarly be able to communicate effectively in order to
conduct research and implement solutions. Given the lack of resources
for addressing conservation issues and the urgency and high stakes of
decisions, the value of conservation work is greatly enhanced when key
results can be communicated to groups in other locations tackling
similar problems.
As discussed by Farley (this issue) , narrowly disciplinary training
creates autistic academics, unable to effectively communicate across
disciplines. Our experience suggests that this communication problem
is best solved through transdisciplinary collaboration on real life
problems. Transdisciplinary integration only works by studying a
system as a whole. This approach gives everyone a shared understanding
of a general problem. Anyone who has learned a foreign language knows
that in the beginning, conversation is greatly facilitated when you
are very familiar with the topic being discussed. You might not
understand a specific word, but in context the meaning becomes
obvious. Exactly the same principle applies in transdisciplinary
integration: a team of conservation scientists from a variety of
disciplines will be able to communicate much more effectively when
they share basic knowledge about the system they are discussing, and
can explain disciplinary jargon to others through examples drawn from
shared knowledge. In the case of this workshop, for example,
ecologists could readily explain how ecosystem structure generated
function using concrete examples, and economists could explain that
those functions of value to humans were ecosystem services, and the
loss of these ecosystem services was an opportunity cost of conversion
to aquaculture. Applied, problembased conservation research helps
transcend disciplinary borders.
As previously described, communication across sectors—academia,
community, government and nongovernmental organizations—is also
critical. Just as with communication across disciplines, this is
greatly facilitated by collaborating on a common problem. However,
there can be serious cultural differences between sectors and
nationalities. In general, and certainly in the case of this
atelierskillshare, nongovernmental organizations working with
communities affected by conservation issues can play a vital cross
cultural communication link, as they will be familiar with the local
community, government and academia. Above all, communication across
sectors must be based on mutual respect and the recognition that all
sectors have valuable information and skills, and effective solutions
are unlikely without collaboration across these sectors.
One of the most important tasks of conservation science is to
communicate results to those with the power and authority to act in a
way that stimulates them to act. In the case of the Tagabinet study,
this meant not only communicating to government officials, but also
applying pressure. Here again the NGO partners proved particularly
valuable owing to their experience in communicating with governments
and media. Once we had satisfactorily synthesized the results of our
analysis, our NGO partners arranged for a press conference. Both print
and television media were invited on Friday afternoon, a slow time for
news. We distributed carefully prepared press releases to accompany
our presentations summarizing our findings, stressing the
unsustainable, unjust, inefficient and illegal nature of the
aquaculture ponds. Following the press conference, we gave a separate
presentation to the Mayor, Palawan Province and City government staff,
National Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Fisheries
and Forestry Bureau staff, and enforcement officers.
Our presentations helped convince Mayor Hagedorn that something needed
to be done to address the problem. The day following our
presentations, he flew to Manila to get permission to destroy the
illegal aquaculture ponds, solicited the help of the community in
destroying the dikes, and arranged for buses to transport everyone to
the site. While he was doing this, our NGO partners arranged for
another press conference in Tagabinet, followed by one at the
aquaculture site. Following the official end of the
atelier/skillshare, the remaining participants accompanied the mayor
to Tagabinet, where we again presented our results to the press. The
mayor then led some 100 community members, local NGO staff and
remaining participants to the aquaculture ponds. The mayor arrived
first, with his bodyguards and the workshop organizers, and we were
immediately threatened with violence by heavily armed gunmen at the
site. However, as bus loads of villagers began to show up, along with
television movie cameras, the gunmen were forced to back down. We all
went to the site of the ponds themselves, where yet another press
conference took place, this time involving representatives of the
owners of the aquaculture ponds.
Following this conference, the mayor took the first ceremonial swing
of a pickaxe before the rest of the community joined in to demolish
the newest aquaculture ponds that were not yet in production, having
decided to allow the owners to harvest from the functioning ponds.
Within the next few days, however, the owners had drained the
remaining ponds as well.
Halting one illegal aquaculture project among thousands, while
satisfying, has negligible value by itself. However, the local
television station presented a two hour program chronicling workshop
findings and the destruction of the ponds. The event received local
and national newspaper coverage, and the mayor was commended by the
minister of the environment. With this widespread publicity, anyone
else considering illegal aquaculture ponds must recognize an increased
risk to their activities, which translates into a lower expected rate
of return on investment, and presumably less investment. Without
effective communication, this project would have been relatively
insignificant. With communication, it may end up having an impact on
the rate of mangrove conversion in the Philippines. We have also
learned that the webbased teaching module has been used in university
courses in the Philippines. Once it is updated with the results of our
workshop, we hope it will prove a useful resource for other groups
working on similar issues.
In addition to the dike destruction, a short list of other outcomes of
the project included:
A valuation study of mangrove ecosystems and shrimp aquaculture
including distributional impacts and the nonmonetary assessment
of ecological impacts;
Recommendations for a mangrove replanting/rehabilitation and
monitoring plan for the City of Puerto Princessa, which were
implemented by the City, resulting in 10,000 mangroves being
planted five months after the workshop by school children.
Adoption by participating NGOs of a framework to reform World
Bank, bilateral, IMF and private lending for shrimp aquaculture.
Agreement by NGOs and local government officials that subsidies
for shrimp aquaculture should be removed.
The unplanned confiscation of illegally cut mangroves by workshop
participants under ELAC and local police supervision. The illegal
cutters were criminally charged.
A oneday training for 70 Palawan NGO, governmental and other
officials on ecological economics hosted by ELAC.
A proposal by Tambuyog to Oxfam organizations in Southeast Asia
that the finance and trade in aquaculture shrimp be a primary
issue, which was adopted.
As of July, 2004, no other shrimp aquaculture operations had been
given lease agreements in Palawan. However, while our project
experienced considerable success, it remains questionable whether
these successes will endure. Three months after the workshop the
Federal government reversed the decision to dismantle the aquaculture
ponds and awarded a temporary permit to the shrimp pond operators to
resume aquaculture operations. As this article goes to press, the
local communities, NGOs and the local government in Puerto Princesa
continue to contest this decision. Thus, our success on this project
can only be considered partial.
5 Summary and conclusions

While not all conservation projects should expect such dramatic
results as we achieved, we believe that much of our success was due to
the approach we used, and that many elements of this approach could be
replicated elsewhere. It is therefore worth summarizing the basic
elements of our approach and identifying the reasons for their
success. We must also point out the shortcomings of our approach, and
present suggestions for how they might be resolved.
First, we believe that successful conservation projects demand an
ability to transcend disciplinary and institutional/sectoral
boundaries. The reason that this is necessary is because there is no
one correct perspective in complex problems (Berkes, 2004), but if we
look from many perspectives simultaneously, we get a much more
complete picture. Currently, universities are structured to train
students in the theory and framework of specific disciplines. Such a
disciplinary approach can prove a powerful tool for analyzing specific
components of problems. Real world problems, however, do not respect
the boundaries of academic disciplines, and those who examine problems
from within disciplinary boundaries will get a very incomplete
picture. Rather than a disciplinary approach to the problem of
conservation, our universities need to promote a problembased
approach that will stimulate synthesis across the disciplines and
enable academics to draw the tools and insights necessary to solve a
problem from any discipline. Successful outcomes demand that we
understand how natural systems function, how human activities affect
those functions, and how the forces within the existing economic,
social and political systems drive human activities. Only then can we
hope to alter the human system in a way that protects essential
benefits provided by the natural system. This requires the integration
of knowledge and effort between the natural and social sciences. Not
only do real world problems require a transdisciplinary,
transinstitutional approach, but using a problembased approach to
research is probably the best way transcend the borders between
disciplines and institutions.
Second, successful conservation demands an emphasis on communication.
Different disciplines must learn to communicate across artificial
disciplinary borders, and academics, NGOs, governments and
stakeholders must learn to communicate with each other in order to
develop effective solutions. Again, problem based projects that
promote shared knowledge facilitate the learning of other disciplinary
and institutional languages and approaches. Implementation of
solutions demands in addition the ability to communicate with those
with the authority and power to act. The dissemination of solutions
demands the ability to communicate effectively with the media, and to
communicate with other groups tackling similar problems. Communication
with academic peers through journal articles can also play an
important role in disseminating appropriate methodologies, which can
then be implemented elsewhere and improved upon.
Third, we must adapt our conventional scientific methodologies to deal
with problems where facts are uncertain, stakes are high, decisions
are urgent, and values matter. The literature and practice of
postnormal science, rapid rural appraisal and participatory action
research have much to teach us in this regard. Above all, such
problems demand stakeholder participation not only in providing
information, but also in project design and implementation. When
acting in the absence of complete information and in situations where
values matter, participatory adaptive management is essential (Berkes,
In conclusion, the approach we laid out helps to resolve our
inadequate understanding of ecological benefits relative to economic
ones. But our project was not completely successful. We should learn
from our failures, and allow these lessons to guide future research. The
fact is that the politically powerful owners of the aquaculture ponds
may yet regain permission to rebuild and expand. If the conversion of
mangrove ecosystems to shrimp aquaculture appears to be so
ecologically unsustainable, socially unjust and economically
inefficient, then why is it at least tacitly supported by the Filipino
government, and many governments elsewhere? We believe that there are
two primary reasons. First, the economic benefits of conversion are
well understood, visible, and easy to measure, while its ecological
and social costs are often poorly understood by decision makers,
intangible, and extremely difficult to quantify. Many people see
mangrove forests as useless swamps. Compounding this problem, World
Bank economists have long supported shrimp aquaculture, and their
prestigious titles and incomes may increase their credibility. Second,
mangrove forests, other tropical ecosystems and indeed almost all
ecosystems provide services across a broad range of geographical areas
that fail to respect political borders. Communities, be they citizens,
politicians, or their advisers, are unlikely to care about benefits
that extend beyond their borders such as carbon sequestration. Just as
private owners of ecosystems may ignore the ecosystem services that
benefit the local community, local communities are unlikely to make
sacrifices to provide national benefits, and nations are unlikely to
make sacrifices to provide global benefits. In the case of local and
national benefits, institutions exist that can step in and ensure the
provision of vital ecosystem services by either rewarding their
provision or punishing their destruction. No such institutions exist
on the global level, and even if they did, issues of national
sovereignty would allow only rewards and not punishments. As it
currently stands, the wealthy nations are freeriding on the provision
of ecosystem services by the poorer nations.
It is a basic principle of ecological economics that solving problems
demands institutions at the scale of the problem (Daly and Farley,
2003; Costanza and others, 1998). Until we develop global institutions
through which the beneficiaries of global ecosystem services
adequately compensate the providers, it is unlikely that such services
will be provided at a globally desirable level. Conservation efforts
must transcend international boundaries as well as disciplinary and
institutional ones. How to do achieve this is a critical area for
future research.

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