It Takes a Village

Protecting coastal waters starts at the local level

Mayor Alfredo Coro Jr of Del Carmen, Philippines, shares his reflections on growing up along the Philippines' pristine coastal waters before returning to become Mayor of the area he always loved. Now, he shares his passion for locally-led conservation with others through his membership with the Coastal500.
  • Mayor Alfredo Coro Jr.
April 3, 2024
Mayor Alfredo Coro Jr of Del Carmen, Philippines with his Coastal 500 pledge.
Mayor Alfredo Coro Jr of Del Carmen, Philippines with his Coastal 500 pledge.

When I was a young boy, my family and I would take the boat from Surigao City to Siargao Island, spending weeks exploring its natural wonders. The hot, rocky beach, the crystal clear ocean, the seafood, the people…they all left me with beautiful memories of growing up.

Fifteen years later, I returned to Siargao Island to serve three consecutive terms as Mayor of the municipality of Del Carmen. In the years between my childhood and my election, Del Carmen faced many challenges because of climate change and a growing tourism industry. As Mayor, I am proud of my municipality’s progress and success: we improved health service delivery, achieved education reforms, implemented sustainable fisheries management, developed community-based tourism, and improved local governance.

Our progress and resilience were made with a lot of support from multiple partners, allowing us to appreciate the science, understand our desired future, and work to develop Del Carmen’s sustainable development. In time, our small coastal community became a global model of how local governance can influence positive change.

The replicability of the opportunity to share our success with other municipalities is what drove me to engage more with Coastal500, a global network of Mayors and local government leaders committed to working towards thriving and prosperous coastal communities. The network presents an opportunity to empower more local leaders, governments, and communities to access replicable solutions, policies, and innovations that support sustainable development and equitable growth.

In August 2023, we learned that the Coastal 500 was nominated for the Earthshot Prize, considered one of the world’s biggest environmental prizes, organized by Prince William, Prince of Wales. Earthshot commissioned a media team from Manila to film in Del Carmen and tell the municipality’s story of transformation.

To my surprise, one of the photos taken that day was shown on the LED wall of London’s Piccadilly Square. By November 2023, I was in Singapore for the Awards ceremony. While the Coastal 500 didn’t take home a prize that evening, it was the only program originating from Southeast Asia and the first to be nominated from the Philippines.

During the event, I witnessed the amazing innovations presented by talented and committed organizations from around the world. It was truly a privilege to see and learn about various approaches to addressing the challenges of climate change. Many of the solutions I learned about could be scaled for use in fisheries. For example, I met with GRST, the Earthshot Clean Air Winner, to learn more about their progress in developing a new e-battery-driven engine for small-scale fisheries to address health issues, like fishers’ hearing loss due to loud engines. This particular solution reduces the cost of fishing operations and the use of fossil fuels, and it would benefit not only Del Carmen’s fishers but potentially all small-scale fishers worldwide. GRST’s win and solution encouraged me to explore other solutions within the Earthshot Prize Awards portfolio that could be replicated and scaled by the Coastal 500’s members.

Energized by our experience in Singapore, we next brought Coastal500 mayors to the UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP) 28 held in Dubai in December 2023 to share the network’s global progress and explore new partnerships and collaborations with donors, NGOs, and INGOs, and others working on marine conservation issues. I met fishers worldwide, advocates of human rights and climate migration, and those representing social determinants influencing fisher behavior. We brought our local stories to a broader audience by speaking at multiple events. We amplified the situation of similar coastal municipalities and villages at risk – from increasing frequency and strength of storms, warming temperatures resulting in drought, and a lack of time and resources to mitigate or adapt to the current impacts.

June 20, 2017Mayor Alfredo Coro II of Del Carmen gives his insights about building local support at an event held by Rare and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to celebrate best practices in community adoption of managed access + sanctuaries.
Mayor Alfredo Coro II of Del Carmen gives his insights about building local support. June, 2017

At COP, I spoke about the Category 5 Super Typhoon of 2021, which made landfall in Del Carmen in December, and how our 10-year journey of rehabilitating the Del Carmen Mangrove Forest saved our people’s lives and properties. Listening to others tell their stories, I wondered why we were still talking when we all knew the actions were needed already. I responded to inquiries about how small-scale coastal communities can be heard on global platforms and assert their voices beyond national governments as direct representatives of the people. I shared with the audience how our policy in the Philippines protects a 15-kilometer shoreline based on food security science – and how it’s now being replicated in Honduras by their local communities.

These experiences, with the Earthshot Prize and COP28 in Dubai, made me realize the collective power of the leaders of neglected small fishing villages and municipalities to drive change in their communities – if their leaders have access to appropriate information, replicable action, and localized scientific narratives. Coastal500 aims to empower these leaders, their local governments, and the people they serve.

Our mission to sustain our fisheries and oceans reminds me of the little boy who would regularly travel the seas, from Surigao to Siargao, full of possibilities for what lies ahead. I can now confidently tell that little boy that those of us living on coasts and islands have the power to shape our future – regardless of the challenges that climate change and other uncertainties may throw our way.