New Storybook Shows Why Coral Triangle Matters to Youth

Students learning coastal resources management skills in Palawan, Philippines.
Students learning coastal resources management skills in Palawan, Philippines.

By Lourdes Margarita A. Caballero

The stories remind us that young people are not bystanders passively watching the reef die, but heroes leading the fight to save their natural heritage.

I believe every young person has a powerful story to tell.

But when those young voices live on the margins of society in remote coastal communities in the Philippines, we rarely get to hear them.

Thankfully, ADB and the Global Environment Fund (GEF) have decided to do something about it.

Today we have launched a book, Tales From the Coral Triangle, that features short stories by 10 Filipino teenagers from Palawan, a tropical island on the edge of the archipelago that is sometimes called the “Philippines’ last frontier.”

A mix of both fiction and non-fiction, the student authors, all girls, tell stories about one of the world’s natural wonders, The Coral Triangle, a magnificent stretch of ocean and coral reef that surrounds their island home, as well as much of Southeast Asia.

The triangle covers 5.7 million square kilometers and is regarded as a global center of tropical marine diversity, its coral reefs and mangrove forests teeming with marine life.

Sadly, this magnificent natural resource is now under threat from a variety of factors, including the impacts of climate change, over-fishing, unsustainable fishing methods, and pollution.

These are the themes that run through the young authors’ tales.

Told with passion and imagination, the stories describe what the sea means to them, and why it’s worth fighting for. The stories remind us that young people are not bystanders passively watching the reef die, but heroes leading the fight to save their natural heritage. They battle dynamite fishers, turtle poachers, and mangrove cutters within their spheres of influence. They describe the devastating impact of climate change on their environment. They even negotiate with supernatural creatures to save their communities.

The book also touches on their struggle with poverty, apathy, and consumerism. Some of the stories describe the dilemmas they face when they learn the people doing the most damage to the reef are the people they love the most – their parents, friends, and neighbors. These relationships are important, and they need help in dealing with complex feelings and decisions that involve them.

These stories are the product of a storywriting contest in the municipalities of Balabac, Taytay, and Puerto Princesa City from July to September 2014. The contest was sponsored by the ADB-GEF funded Coastal and Marine Resources Management in the Coral Triangle - Southeast Asia project, which aims to protect the Coral Triangle's economic and environmental assets.

The contest is part of the “Heroes of the Environment” communication campaign on climate change adaptation in the Philippines. The project produced the book to listen to the worldviews of youth who are often left out in coastal resource management talks, and mobilize them to lead change. Participating national high schools included Balabac, Sicsican, Busy Bees, Canique, Central Taytay, and the Western Philippines University Agricultural Science High School.

Among the notable entries is “The Changes in Elma’s Family”, an account of a daughter from the Molbog indigenous group in the Balabac islands grappling with her father’s dynamite fishing to feed their family. In “Tuking, the Mischievous Whale Shark,” the gentle giant transforms into the unlikely savior of the Kingdom of Tubbataha from muro-ami fishers. Meanwhile, “Pilang Pilandok and Ping” shares the story of an endangered mouse deer who befriends a boy whose father is in the illegal wildlife trade.

As a whole, the book contributes to raising political consciousness among the young and vulnerable through story writing. The process not only enabled them to reflect on their ability as change-makers. It challenged them to think why their communities were faced with such problems and their role in changing the future.

Readers who are eager to listen and engage will find seeds of hope in the book. It is a testament that young people believe that speaking up and being seen matter. As long as they can still imagine a better world where they have a strong voice, then change is possible.