Rising seas and raising voices: children from the Philippines share coastal stories

Children living near the sea are one of the most at risk to climate effects. They share insightful stories when we create a safe place for them to connect.

Elna Basala (center) wrote the story “The Changes is Elma’s Life” for the Tales from the Coral Triangle storybook. Her teacher Marilyn Armodia (left) mentored her and Hannah Manaligod (right) drew the paintings for the book.

When Elnah Basala wrote her first story at age 15, she didn’t think anyone would notice.

“I wasn’t born yet when my grandfather went out to sea with ‘bungbong’ (home-made dynamite). He lost his limbs and died,” she said.

Elnah described her family as ordinary Molbog natives, yet their life experience is unusual. Elnah is now a grade 10 student at Balabac National High School.

In her story, she recounted the perils of dynamite fishing in their town. It was published in the “Tales from the Coral Triangle,” story book. The book is a collection of stories written  by public high school students from Taytay, a town in north Palawan, and Balabac, a group of islands in the far south.

The story book is a product of the “Bayani ng Kalikasan” or Heroes of the Environment campaign created by CTI – Southeast Asia project. The project is funded by the Asian Development Bank and the Global Environment Facility.

Children living in island communities are among the most vulnerable to climate change[1] [2]. Unfortunately, they are also most likely left out of climate talks be it research or decision-making[3].

However, their stories give useful insights about their capacity to communicate and encourage others to take climate action.

Children are observant of local environmental issues and are highly aware of what can be done.

Lack of environmental awareness can worsen climate change effects. This is more of a social challenge than environmental.

A fisher ties seaweed seedlings to straws at a seaweed farm hut in Bgy. Pamantolon, Taytay, Palawan. (Photo: Benjamin Gonzales/CTI-SEA)

If people have a better understanding of the interconnections in the environment then they can choose better ways to fish, to eat, and to live. There is a bigger chance for them to adopt activities that will be beneficial in the future. They may also be encouraged to stop unsustainable practices.

For example, Balabac is highly vulnerable to risks and hazards. But reef areas are still destroyed by dynamite and sodium cyanide and forest trees are cut down.

In “Tales from the Coral Triangle,” the student-authors wrote about things young people do not usually talk about—wildlife trade, super typhoons, deforestation, and illegal fishing, among others. They show their ideal world through real and imagined stories. Likewise, their narratives display what can be done about present challenges.

“We have noticed that there are less fish because of dynamite [fishing]. We can stop this now so there are no regrets in the future.” Elnah said.

In “The Changes in Elma’s Family,” a close family member abandoned dynamite fishing and farmed seaweed instead.

In a vulnerability study for Balabac,[4]  36% of fishers reported declining fish catch. Among the respondents, 16% said that their fish catch is less than 4 kilograms per day. According to the study, the increasing sea temperature causes fish to move further away. This may have contributed to fish catch decline.

Children see themselves as active players more than by-standers in the climate battle.

The stories in “Tales from the Coral Triangle” have unlikely lead characters and surprisingly simple solutions. These shift the narrative from children as observers or victims to children as champions.

“Illegal logging is rampant in many barangays in Balabac. Animals have been losing their homes because of this,” said Munawara Saleh of Balabac National High School.

Munawara wrote about the friendship between Pilang Pilandok, a mousedeer, and Ping, an illegal logger’s son in “Pilang Pilandok and Ping.” In the story, Ping started planting trees to replace those that his father had cut down.

The Philippine mousedeer is listed as endangered in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. It is also known as the Balabac chevrotain and can only be found in Balabac.

Deforested forests make low lands prone to flooding. Projections from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) showed that Palawan, including Balabac will experience more rains in 2020. This means that there will be greater risks of flooding that can affect crops and residences.

Results of Balabac’s hazard assessment showed that 16 coastal barangays will be inundated if there is a half a meter to two meters rise in sea level. Twelve barangays are also exposed to multi-hazards like flood and landslide.

Students and teachers celebrate the Coral Triangle Day by replanting Mt. Mamaquen, Taytay, Palawan. (Photo: Raul Roldan/CTI-SEA)
Student volunteers from Central Taytay National High School poses for a photo during a science club activity. They have planted seedlings of native trees at Mt. Mamaquen watershed in Taytay, Palawan. (Photo: Raul Roldan/CTI-SEA)

As part of the Heroes of the Environment campaign, students have initiated their own environmental projects. These projects were done in Balabac and Taytay in Palawan, and some towns in Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga Sibugay.

They have replanted deforested mangrove areas and watersheds. With guidance from their teachers, the students also helped raised local environmental consciousness. This is through information drives and creative environment-themed performances.

When children are well-informed, they can become information bridges. Also, if they are fully involved, they can bring solutions to the table, with themselves as primary actors.

Children share their own learning experiences about the changing climate and environment when we give them a platform.

“Tales from the Coral Triangle” has become a safe place for students to share their fears and hopes about their communities’ current environmental state. It has become a platform to send environmentally-charged messages to their communities as well.

“Our town is surrounded by the sea and its bounties. I wanted to tell them that dynamite fishing has destroyed reefs. If readers become aware of these things then we can do something about it,” shares Roozie Quea Idlana, another student-author from Balabac National High School.

“The school I am from is undoubtedly a leader in taking care of the Earth. Even if we don’t have much influence or power, our voices can be heard,” she adds.

Educators and local leaders can benefit from encouraging children to participate in climate actions. Young people have the drive, insight, and resourcefulness that can inspire parents, teachers, and other members in the community to pitch in.

The “Tales from the Coral Triangle” was launched on 30 September, at Knowledge Hub, Asian Development Bank in Mandaluyong City.

Download a free copy of the book at http://bit.ly/TalesPH.

The Coral Triangle is the center of marine biodiversity in the planet. It encompasses Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Timor-Leste, and the Solomon Islands.


[1] Lori Peek. “Children and Disasters: Understanding Vulnerability, Developing Capacities, and Promoting Resilience — An Introduction.” Children, Youth and Environments 18, no. 1 (2008): 1-29. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7721/chilyoutenvi.18.1.0001.

[2] Sheridan Bartlett. “Climate change and urban children: impacts and implications for adaptation in low- and middle-income countries.” Environment and Urbanization October 2008 20: 501-519, doi:10.1177/0956247808096125

[3] Katharine Haynes and Thomas M. Tanner. “Empowering young people and strengthening resilience: youth-centered participatory video as a tool for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.” Children’s Geographies Vol. 13 , Iss. 3,2015

[4] Climate Change Adaptation, Vulnerability Assessment, and Disaster Risk Reduction Management of Balabac Municipality. 2015. ADB RETA 7813: Coastal and Marine Resources Management in the Coral Triangle – Southeast Asia (CTI-SEA). (unpublished)

About the Author

Dana Rose Salonoy is interested in youth engagement and environmental conservation. She writes, designs, and illustrates.


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