Building Community with Fiberglass Boats

Wooden Banca in Philippines - photo courtesy of Gregg Yan/WWF
Using fiberglass to make boats is not a revolutionary concept in the United States. But, it is a new idea for remote islanders living 8,000 miles away in the Philippines—and one with an impact that reaches far beyond the boating industry. Filipinos are using fiberglass, in essence, to rebuild their community.

This past November, Typhoon Haiyan blew through the central Philippines, claiming over 6,000 lives and displacing more than four million people. It also took with it around 30,000 wooden fishing boats, known as bancas, and consequently about 140,000 jobs, according to Lorenzo Tan, the Philippine head of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). All in all, that’s a lot of numbers that add up to loss: lives, homes, jobs, and, for many, a primary source of food.

Constructing Fiberglass BancaWhere does a community begin to recover? Tan and his team at WWF suggest fiberglass as a good place to start. To help families recover from the destruction of Haiyan, the WWF is working to provide these Philippine fisherfolk 600 new boats—not made of wood, but of fiberglass reinforcement. And for all the reasons it’s valued in the composites industry.

• Fiberglass is easy to handle and builds quickly. Most boats can be made in a day, rather than the two weeks required to rebuild traditional wooden bancas.
• Fiberglass is lightweight, so bancas can be moved easily from shoreline to higher ground when storms approach.
• Fiberglass bancas are watertight, so they won’t swell like wooden counterparts, reducing potential damage and loss. When they do require repair, holes and cracks can be fixed easily with resin and fiberglass fabric.

Additionally, the 15-foot outriggers will be paddle- or sail-powered by design, since they are meant for small-scale, subsistence fishing, which lessens the likelihood of overfishing. Fiberglass also reduces the reliance on hardwood as a supply source, eliminating the need to cut down trees.
According to Patrick Co, manager for the project, teaching the fisherfolk fiberglass composite boat-making technology may even prompt new industry in the region—giving this community a chance to stand on its own once again.

To raise funds for the project, Tan and the WWF hope to crowdsource support by soliciting donations online. The plan is to raise $24,000 initially to begin building 60 boats.
At Fibre Glast Developments, we decided to get onboard, and donate funds to support a boat.
WWF Crew with Fiberglass Banca - image courtesy of Gregg Yan/WWF.
“It’s a great effort to get behind, especially since we know first-hand all the incredible benefits of fiberglass composites,” said Chris Caldwell, Product Manager for Fibre Glast. “It’s exciting to see fiberglass making such a big impact, even from so far away. We’re glad to be a part of it.”

We encourage you to follow our lead and contribute by clicking here.
Sources include Wall Street Journal Southeast Asia Realtime blog and rappler.com.

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