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Uncovering Asia’s Forgotten Wetland Jewel in Today’s Changing Climate and Society
in honor of the Manobo Indigenous People of the Agusan Marshlands

where are in the in-betweens?
where land shifts to water, and water shifts to land.


The Guardians of the Marsh is an immersive multi-stage project of the Philippine’s largest wetland, the Agusan Marshlands. A complex vast ecologically significant temporal landscape made up of fifty-nine lakes, meandering rivers, boggy swamps, and mystical peatlands, now facing the relentless brunt of a changing climate. This neglected and forgotten wetland jewel of Asia is rapidly shrinking due to climate change and intense socio-economic activity. Severe typhoons, prolonged droughts, torrential flooding, unsustainable agriculture, and illegal logging threatens this wetland frontier.

Left to fade in today’s changing climate and society, this project tells a two-part story of dualities. The wet and the dry, and of people and of place— a story of the neglected wetland through qualitative exploration, quantitative assessment, science-based storytelling, and on-ground initiatives to conserve the landscapes, cultlure, wildlife, and biodiversity within the changing seasons influencing the life of the indigenous and local communities facing the naturecultural issues of its shifting waters.

A sense of place, of time, and of community.
In 2019 and 2020, a recorded total area of more than 100-hectares of peatlands and swamp forests, or the size of roughly 140 football fields were burnt down to expand palm oil plantations. Prolonged droughts have been exacerbated by the drying climate, making the peatlands more vulnerable to these fires.


Six municipalities and 38 towns depend on the Agusan Marshlands for livelihood, water, and food, such as  the Manobo indigenous community, who serve as the guardians of the marsh. Lake Panlabuhan serves as the flood basins to prevent massive flooding downstream to major cities of Butuan in the Philippines

It is now the beginning of the end of their way of culture and life. Instead of rain, there were ashes. Instead of a stream, there is drought. Instead of water, there is blood. Marites Babanto, the indigenous woman leaders of the Manobo Tribe has no choice left but to fight and protect the waters, trees, and peat of her floating community and the future indigenous generations, who will be inheriting the Agusan Marshlands that have been passed on by her ancestral forefathers.


As currents turn to indigenous knowledge as an essential solution for climate action—
the Manobo indigenous knowledge and culture is integrated and recognized as science through modern contemporary design within neigboring communities as means of adaptation to unprecedented extreme weather events such as severe droughts and floods wrought by the ongoing climate crisis.

Floating houses, churches, and schools are designed on rafts anchored to endemic “bangkal” trees adapting to the changes of water level during drought and flooding.

Flood Risk Assesment Map of Agusan Marhslands

in the in-betweens

of water and land, of future and past—

the way forward is indigenous.

the philippines | jgbmejia@gmail.com | +639189116685