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Local communities highlight roles in marine conservation

THERE is hope to successfully protect and conserve the country’s marine biodiversity with the help and support of local communities in order to benefit the people in terms of better fish yield and income, and resiliency against impacts of climate change.

This was demonstrated in Palawan and Batangas provinces, where people in coastal communities played major roles in boosting conservation efforts under the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI).

The success stories were shared by project beneficiaries during the CTI Philippines Forum held at the Hotel InterContinental in Makati City on August 14.

Organized by the CTI Philippines National Coordinating Committee (NCC), co-chaired by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture, with support from the United States Agency for International Development, the forum was attended by more than 200 representatives from the public and private sectors, including local government leaders and community groups in Coral Triangle Support Partnership (CTSP) sites in Palawan, Tawi-Tawi and the Verde Island Passage in Batangas.

The Philippines is in the apex of the so-called Coral Triangle, which scientists say is a region that is most rich in terms of marine biodiversity.

“Local communities are the delivery systems of conservation. By delivering bottom-line results that not only provide livelihood, but create wealth, we exert a profound influence on sustainably transforming systems and practices. Going beyond science, beyond policy, beyond plans and pilots, our collective goal should be to give our stakeholders and allies a future where they can reap strong, sustainable benefits. In a climate-defined future, this is conservation at work,” World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Philippines) Vice Chairman and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan said in a press statement.

The five-year CTSP is US government-funded and implemented through Conservation International (CI), the WWF/World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

The partnership promotes community participation in the protection and management of their marine and coastal resources to ensure long-term and sustainable use.

Federico and Nida Illut, fishermen from the municipality of Araceli in Palawan, said their income increased as a result of the increase in yield of grouper fish, commonly known as lapu-lapu.

Palawan, which is home to over 40 percent of the country’s reefs and diverse fish species, generates 55 percent of all Philippine seafood, including the highly valued suno or red grouper.

Exported to Hong Kong, Singapore, China and other seafood hubs, this colorful fish species contributes over P1 billion to the country’s annual revenues and supports the livelihoods of 100,000 people in Palawan alone.

This was attributed to the conservation efforts supported by local government units and the local communities.

The source of income and livelihood in Araceli was once threatened by overfishing.

Fishers were catching five times more than what could be sustained; spawning grounds for fishes were targeted, severely depleting natural brood-stock, Tan said.

In 2011 WWF and its partners commissioned science-based studies to guide Palawan fisheries officers on how to identify, establish and manage Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

A concept pioneered by Filipino scientists in 1974, MPAs are areas of marine habitats which enjoy varying levels of protection—from no-take to limited-use classifications. Over a thousand MPAs are now spread across the archipelago.

Two years after declaring new MPAs and protecting fish spawning areas, fishermen in the area are now benefiting from the establishment of the MPAs.

In Calatagan, Batangas, people are living under constant threat of calamities.

The entire west coast of Calatagan in Batangas is exposed to waves from the South China Sea.

The area is highly vulnerable to storm surges, coastal erosion and flooding—further aggravated by the impacts of climate change. A one-meter rise in sea level will flood about 4,700 hectares of coastal plain.

As an adaptation strategy, coastal villages in Calatagan have ventured into mangrove (bakawan) reforestation and protection—with community members understanding the critical function of these forests as buffers against climate hazards.

An alliance of fishing families in the village of Balibago established a mangrove nursery for 10,000 seedlings in a 10-hectare mangrove conservation area with the aid of the CTSP through CI.

Apart from supplying mangrove seedlings to nearby towns to widen the mangrove belt in Calatagan, the nursery also became an added source of income for families in the area. Residents sell 5,000 mangroves saplings yearly and earn additional income from waste recycling while patrolling or harvesting shellfish.

In the nearby village of Quilitisan, a mangrove island known as Ang Pulo (The Island) was developed as an ecotourism site for camping, birdwatching and picnics on rafts. The site is now fully managed by a community of fishers, farmers and women.

“Through their mangrove rehabilitation efforts, the people of Calatagan are taking action to address the impacts of climate change in their communities while simultaneously reaping the benefits of ecotourism, ultimately securing a bright future of their families,” Conservation International-Philippines Country Executive Director Enrique A. Nuñez Jr. said.

With the success of these initiatives, Calatagan is considered a model site for coastal-resource management and is being replicated in other provinces in the Philippines.

In Photo: A signpost is erected by the Balibago community organization inside the mangrove-conservation area in Calatagan. The Calatagan mangrove-rehabilitation program is part of the climate change-adaptation plan being developed throughout Batangas with the help of Conservation International and its partners. (Conservation International)






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