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Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture Mangrove Restoration

Students’ Trip to Philippines Brings Restoration and Awareness

WSU Engineering students learn about and help restoration efforts in the Philippines

A few decades ago, the mangrove forests along the coasts of the Philippineswere seen as useless swamps. They were torn up and used for other purposes, so that in the past 70 years, 65 percent of them have been destroyed.

Today, the same people who tore up the mangroves are dedicated to the restoration of what they now know are extremely crucial and beneficial ecosystems for carbon control, coastal protection, and the fishing industry.

A group of WSU mechanical engineering students took a week-long trip in February to learn about and help restoration efforts in the Philippines. The trip was a part of their senior design course, led by Dr. Charles Pezeshki, professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.

Working with Tanggol Kalikasan (TK), a regional NGO involved in the mangrove restoration efforts.

The students visited the coastal areas of Dasol Bay and Infanta Bay, two mangrove restoration sites where they assessed two significant problems.

“The first site had a very small survival rate,” said Samantha Sanders, a senior in mechanical engineering. “The second had problems with planting time.”

The students are working on four potential tools that could help restoration become more successful.

For the low survival rate at Dasol Bay, the students have developed a seed stabilizer to prevent the loss of seeds from waves in the bay and a barnacle scraper to prevent barnacle accumulation on seedlings.

“The locals currently just use a knife to pry the barnacles off, which isn’t easy,” Sanders said. “We’re hoping with the barnacle scraper they won’t have to lean over and constantly twist their wrist. It will be one easy downward motion.”

For Infanta Bay, the students are working to develop an auger for more efficient planting and a carrier for transporting seedlings from a nearby inlet.

Planting the seedlings on an inlet and moving them increases the survival rate from 10 to about 70 percent, Sanders said.

“The seedlings get to about 1 1/2 feet tall and 5 to 10 pounds by the time they are planted,” she said. “The locals are planting hundreds and trying to carry them half a mile to be replanted. We’re developing a carrier out of bamboo or netting that will allow for easier transportation.”

As part of the project, two students from the Edward R.Murrow School of Communication are documenting the trip and creating a campaign to increase environmental awareness. Senior Raquel Marcelo said they’re currently in the process of planning and building up the campaign.

“We’re putting together news package promos, and we’re planning two workshops,” she said. “We’re also planning to do an Earth Day celebration event.”

Marcelo said that, although the campaign is about the mangrove restoration efforts, the overall goal is bigger.

“We are working to get activism up locally,” she said. “Not everyone can travel to places like this, but there are local things people can do.”

The Philippines project has wide-ranging and positive impacts, says Marcelo.

“The local community benefits directly because it will increase the fish population and they will have more coastal protection from storms,” she said. “It will affect everyone globally because many countries, including the U.S., import fish from the Philippines. Restoration similar to this is also being done in many places.”

Sanders, who had never traveled outside of North America, said the trip was full of many great experiences, particularly in her interactions with the locals.

“The townspeople of Dasol Bay, where the poverty rate is about 70 percent, cooked us a gigantic meal one day just so we could feel at home,” she said. “It was amazing to feel that sense of sacrifice from these people we didn’t even know. It was also fascinating to just see the people working so hard and so dedicated to getting the beauty back in their town.”

A group of WSU engineering students pose in the Philippines

WSU engineering students learn about and help restoration efforts in the Philippines