A silvery kingfisher sits on a branch.

The Agusan Marsh is a complex wetland ecosystem in the Philippines. It is made up of interconnected marshes, lakes, rivers, and swamps.

I come to this place to photograph what lives here. The Agusan is home to many plant and animal speciesincluding more than 200 endemic and migratory birds. It is a crossroads for the birds. Some come from as far as Russia, Japan, and China during winter. It is also home to more than 100 species of flowering plants and trees.

These plants and animals share this wetland with the Manobo Tribe. These indigenous people live in floating houses in the marsh.

Here, the landscape changes from water to land by season. During the wet or rainy season, it is transformed into a vast bay that stores rainwater and buffers tropical storms called typhoons. It protects cities, towns, and villages downstream from floods. It also absorbs pollutants and improves the quality of water that flows. Water lilies, trees, and ferns act as filters by cleaning the water.

Marshland Dangers

Despite being a protected area, the Agusan Marsh is in trouble. Climate change is a constant threat. The average water level of the marshes and lakes is decreasing from prolonged drought.

At the same time, frequent and severe typhoons have caused havoc. This is especially true in the floating communities of the Manobo, where their stilt houses are destroyed by flooding.

A purple swamphen rests amid water lilies.

A brahminy kite soars above the Agusan River.

There are other challenges as well: agriculture and illegal logging. Today, the swamp forests are being destroyed. Layers and layers of peatlands are being burned to clear the land for building. At this place, roosting sites of egrets have been disturbed by plumes of smoke and ash.

The burning of these peatlands also releases tons of carbon into the atmosphere. This hastens the impact of climate change by raising temperatures. It ultimately disturbs the ecological balance here.

peat fires in the Augusan Marsh

The Manobo live in houses that rest on the water.

Strength in Community

All is not lost, however. The Manobo and environmentalists are working together to protect and conserve the Agusan Marsh.

It’s hard to combat climate change. But by enforcing environmental laws, they are putting an end to many damaging practices. They are pressuring logging and mining businesses to stop burning the peatlands and to stop cutting down the swamp forests.

Focusing on a sense of place and community empowers people to act and work toward greater conservation and stewardship.

a bird’s-eye view of the Manobo tribal houses ​​​​​​​in the marsh