FIBREGLASS FUTURES AFTER
When Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines, it not only destroyed lives but people’s means of livelihoods too including 30,000 traditional fishing boats that fishing communities relied on for survival. Something had to be done, fast…
Shaping New Platforms for Resilience
We face a climate-defined future, where extreme weather events packing Haiyan’s
strength and fury will be the new normal. More storms will come. More
boats will be damaged. In the storm’s aftermath in November last year,
the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Philippines) created the blueprint
for Bancas for the Philippines to restore food
security among local fisherfolk and establish resilience in coastal
communities that are vulnerable to climate change impacts.
To veer away from band-aid solutions and dole-outs, the program teaches
fishermen who lost their boats how to build their own fibreglass bancas and replicate boat moulds for future use, for succeeding generations. Since its launch in February 2014, Bancas for the Philippines
has completed the training of local fishermen and boat builders from at
least eight population nodes in Leyte and Northern Palawan for the
production of 600 fibreglass boats.
The fishermen and boat-builders, who received training for a week, can
then transfer their knowledge and skills to fellow mariners in their
coastal communities. Key resources like boat moulds, tools, and training
modules are provided to sustain the building of fibreglass bancas for the long term. “Bancas for the Philippines
went beyond physical re-engineering. In a sense, it involved re-booting
social software. This project is about building skills, creating
opportunities, and crafting new platforms for resilience,” says
WWF-Philippines Vice-chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan.
Boat of the Future
Days before Haiyan barreled
through Samar to Northern Palawan, Binamira knew that small-scale
fishermen will be among the sectors that will be hit the hardest. “Just
looking at the swath, I immediately knew that thousands of small boats
would be destroyed.” Binamira’s extensive body of work in naval
architecture includes two decades of boat-making in Bohol.
“Fibreglass boats are faster, cheaper, and easier to make,” explains Binamira, who designed the Bancas for the Philippines standard
boat model, which is 15 feet long and 14 inches wide, weighing
approximately 30 kilograms. Easily lifted by one to two fishers, the
fibreglass banca can swiftly be hauled inland for safekeeping whenever a super-typhoon approaches a coastal community.
While aware of the challenges of helping fishermen get back on their feet, Binamira and WWF-Philippines also saw Haiyan’s destruction as an opportunity to introduce a climate-smart alternative to build bancas for artisanal fisherfolk. “Fibreglass is now widely available, relatively cheap, and easy to build boats from,” Binamira adds.
Fibreglass has been used
as a boatbuilding material in North America since the late 1940s. In the
Philippines, fibreglass has been available for over 50 years. Because
they are watertight, fibreglass boats prevent leaks and reduce
maintenance. Unlike their wooden counterparts, fibre-reinforced plastic
(FRP) hulls are one continuous piece, preventing water from seeping in.
When laid up in the sun,
fibreglass boats do not shrink. In contrast, wooden hulls shrink or
swell when brought out of the water and laid up. Because fibreglass is
non-organic, the boats become rot-proof and resistant to shipworms and
other marine borers. Provided that they are cared for properly,
fibreglass boats last longer than wooden bancas.
Binamira estimates that the boat’s fibreglass hull is at least thrice
more puncture-resistant than one with an eight to ten millimeter wooden
Benjamin Pedrero is a Taclobanon who lost his home, his boat, plus about 30 relatives to Haiyan –
an almost inconceivable loss. “My wooden boats last for only two to
three years,” he told me. Now that I am building my own fibreglass boat,
I am more than thankful because this can probably last me 20 years –
even a lifetime.” He adds that building a traditional wooden boat takes
10 to 20 days on average, while a fibreglass boat only takes about one
to two days.
Amador Linde is among the
Leyte-based fishermen who joined Pedrero at an onsite training session
on fibreglass boat-making last May. He explains that a sturdier banca made
of fibreglass allows him to weather tougher storms. “After the storm, I
immediately looked for scrap plywood to make my own boat and get back
in the water. But I know that this is only a temporary solution. I will
need a stronger banca so I can be assured that I can feed my family every day.”
The boats of the future, fibreglass bancas allow for simpler and more efficient construction through open-access technology. One mold can be used to make at least 20 banca hulls. The trainees will also learn how to make new moulds in order to sustain fibreglass boat making in their communities.
For these reasons, Bancas for the Philippines offers
a platform to make climate-smart technology – mass-based. In turn, more
fishermen boost their resilience, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency.
Safeguarding our Natural Resources
fibreglass boats also help protect our fragile forest and marine
ecosystems. The Philippines loses about 157,000 hectares of forest cover
each year. To rebuild the 30,000 boats lost to Haiyan from wood threatens to upscale deforestation. A fibreglass banca will curb the country’s dependence on wood as a major boatbuilding component.
With Philippine seas
already overexploited by commercial fishing, the initiative also helps
reduce pressure on our dwindling fishing stocks by promoting artisanal
and small-scale fishing. “Our goal is to meld the old with the new –
modernizing the way we build a boat whose design was already refined by
generations of fishers,” concludes Binamira. “Bancas for the Philippines empowers our coastal communities to weather the storms of the future.”