Mayors from Eight Nations Discuss Coastal Solutions in Siargao

Coastal 500 is the largest network of government leaders working to restore the world’s coasts

DEL CARMEN, SIARGAO – Mayors and government leaders from eight countries recently met in Siargao for the first international field immersion of Coastal 500, a global network of mayors and government leaders who have pledged to protect their home coasts.

Traveling from Indonesia, Micronesia, Palau, Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, Mozambique and neighboring islands in the Philippines, the mayors and government leaders visited the municipalities of General Luna, Santa Monica and Del Carmen to learn about the country’s solutions to coastal conservation, fisheries management and climate change.

“Coastal 500 is the largest international platform for mayors and leaders of coastal hubs to share their experiences,” explains Cynthia Castro, manager of the Coastal 500 programme. Launched in 2021, it has since grown into a network of 160 mayors and 150 fisheries leaders, aiming to hit 500 leaders by 2025.

Funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, Oak and the Swedish Postcode Foundations, Coastal 500 is the brainchild of international nonprofit Rare, which was founded in 1973 and works in 60 countries. Its flagship programme is Fish Forever, envisioned to revitalize marine habitats and the livelihoods of millions of coastal fishers worldwide.

“Coastal communities all over the world have a lot in common,” says Rocky Sanchez Tirona, managing director for Rare’s Fish Forever programme. “They work within different contexts of policy, governance, culture and resource availability, but sometimes, local leaders just need to feel like they’re not alone.”


What is obvious to one nation might not be apparent to another. The Philippines for example, knows how to deal with typhoons, withstanding around 20 yearly. Its solutions range from planting and managing natural storm surge barriers like mangrove forests to relocating vital infrastructure like road networks to less exposed areas.

“We don’t experience many big typhoons in Indonesia,” shares Ray Chandra Purnama of Rare Indonesia. Despite being the world’s largest archipelago of over 17,000 islands, Indonesia sits well below the Pacific Ocean’s often-brutal typhoon belt. “We are not as well-versed in preparing for storms, though we are feeling the effects of climate change through the changing migration patterns of fish, making fishing unpredictable.”

During their weeklong immersion in both Siargao and Metro Manila, Coastal 500 members shared relevant experiences and cultural beliefs.

“In Palau we have a belief called a Bul, where tribal chiefs can stop a particular practice – say, the killing of sea turtles or the overharvesting of certain types of fish,” says Kevin Mesebeluu of Rare Palau, who formerly led the island-nation’s top-billed tourism programme. “We also take ecotourism seriously, going so far as to make visitors sign a declaration that they will never harm our marine life. This declaration is stamped right on their passports.” Ecotourism has paid dividends for Palau, providing 53% of the country’s gross domestic product.


“It was comforting to know that the problems we’re facing are being encountered in other countries,” shares Elton Júnior dos Reis Paixão, secretary of Maracanã in Brazil. “Because of our immersion and informal exchanges in the Philippines, we now feel less alone and ready to develop new solutions.”

These candid exchanges are the reason behind Coastal 500, since solutions to one community’s problems might already have been developed in another place.

“One problem stinks above all in my coastal city – garbage that flows downriver from the upper provinces,” explains Hugo Sarceño, mayor of the city of Puerto Barrios in Guatemala. “To prevent pollution from flowing to sea, we use nets and river booms to trap floating garbage, making manual cleanups easier.” Riverine garbage is an issue faced worldwide, from Africa to the Caribbean.

Juan Ramon Manaiza, mayor of the municipality of Limón in the Honduras, highlighted a common theme for small-scale fishers. “One of our biggest challenges is the encroachment of industrial fishers in our municipal waters, which is 12 nautical miles or 22 kilometers from our coast,” Conflict between commercial and artisanal fishers is a common theme in areas where fish yields are waning.

“A great practice we learned about in Siargao were Fish Forever Savings Clubs,” says Juma Cateria, a district administrator in the province of Nampula in Mozambique. “We definitely want our coastal fishers to adopt this.”

Patterned after the Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) model of many countries, Savings Clubs reach small-scale fishing communities that do not have access to formal financial services, the traditional requirements of which are often too imposing for fishers. By pooling together funds, members have a readily accessible pool for emergencies, such as the surprise family sickness or when fish don’t bite during lean seasons or bouts of bad weather.

Rare has since established over 700 Savings Clubs in six countries, creating a financial security net for hundreds of fishing communities. “We are trying to strengthen social capital and protect coastal assets,” explains Christopher Lomboy of Rare Philippines. “If fishers have cash during a family emergency, then they will have fewer reasons to resort to illegal and potentially destructive fishing – protecting them and our coasts at the same time.”

The Coastal 500 members visited marine protected areas, coastal communities, tourism hubs and exchanged ideas with local leaders at the National Inland and Coastal Fisheries Summit (NCFIS) in Metro Manila from 25 May to 1 June 2024.

The connections forged by Coastal 500 led not just to the exchange of ideas, but real friendships. The trio of mayors Te, Jabagat and Calonge from Libertad, Bindoy and Mabuhay was inseparable. “I realized just how progressive Philippine laws are, allowing our local communities to safeguard our coasts,” says Edreluisa Calonge, mayor of the municipality of Mabuhay in Zamboanga Sibugay. “Other nations have a top-down approach that doesn’t make it easy for coastal residents to feel ownership for the sea.”

The delegates were Edreluisa Calonge, Alfredo Corro, Eniego Jabagat, Mary Jean Te, Romina Saljuga and Arwela Dolar from the Philippines, Henaro Polloi from Palau, Hugo Sarceño from Guatemala, Juan Ramon Manaiza and Edgardo Ramirez from Honduras, Elton Júnior dos Reis Paixão and Edgardo Ramirez from Brazil, Juma Cateria and Jubeta Mamudo Namaneque from Mozambique, Bachrun Labuta from Indonesia, plus Lara Williams and Jamie Staugler from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

With its first field immersion completed, Coastal 500 is getting ready to expand its membership. “We’re building the learning resources and communications platforms that can benefit local leaders even in areas where Rare isn’t working. These will be ready for new members by the end of the year,” says Castro. Applicants interested to join the Coastal 500 can send an email to

“We’re excited to relay our experiences back to our colleagues at home. We’d love to share what we know and we’d love to learn from others,” concludes Jubeta Mamudo Namaneque from Mozambique. “Please come and join us.”


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