The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is inching closer to establishing networks of marine protected areas (MPAs) in a bid to boost the protection and conservation of some of the country’s coastal and marine ecosystems.
So far, three areas have been identified with huge potential for the establishment of an MPA network. Establishing an MPA network will expand the MPA coverage in terms of area and strengthen protection and conservation by pooling together the limited resources of community-based organizations that manage the MPAs.
“So far, we have three sites that are building networks of locally managed MPAs. We have Verde Island Passage, the network is at the provincial level; Davao Gulf and in Surigao, which are building networks of cities and municipalities with existing MPAS,” Norievill España, conservation officer of SmartSeas Project, a foreign-assisted project being implemented by the DENR through the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB).
Interviewed at the sidelines of a three-day SMARTSeas Project-Workshop on Monitoring and Evaluation Plans for MPAs and MPA Networks in Mandaue City, Cebu, held from July 17 to 21, 2019, España said one of the criteria in establishing MPA network is the ecological connectivity of existing MPAs.
Such is the case of the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape (TSPS), a national MPA covered by the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act.
There are 126 locally managed MPAs within its vast area of coverage. Home to large marine wildlife like whales and dolphins, the Tañon Strait is a body of water separating the islands of Negros and Cebu in the Visayas. It is about 161 kilometers long and it connects the Visayan Sea in the north to the Bohol Sea in the south. It was declared as the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape by then-President Fidel V. Ramos under Proclamation 1234 of 1998.
The objective of SMARTSeas Project is to increase the effectiveness of MPA systems. The evaluation and monitoring will measure the effectiveness of the management plans that were developed by MPA managers.
A total of 95 MPAs are covered by the SMARTSeas Project and managers of these MPAs are set to come up with policy recommendations on how to boost the management of their MPAs, possibly through the expansion of the individual MPAs or establishing a network of MPAs.
This was identified as a solution to a major problem encountered in the management of MPAs in the past.
Many MPAs are too small that alone, they cannot adequately provide protection and conservation for the targeted species, such as fish and other seafood, or wildlife like marine turtles, whales or dolphins, or even corals that depend on the ecological connectivity within vast territories or network of marine ecosystems for them to survive and thrive.
According to España, the workshop will also aid the SMARTSeas Project to achieve one of its objectives, which is to come up with an efficient monitoring and evaluation system for MPAs.
The policy recommendation to be finalized after the workshop will be submitted to the DENR, which is spearheading the crafting of a joint memorandum circular with the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the Department of the Interior and Local Government and concerned local government units for the establishment of the MPA Networks, España said.
The SMARTSeas Project also promotes the establishment of biodiversity-friend enterprises in coastal communities within the project sites.
Now on its fifth year, the first three years of the project’s implementation focused on developing strategic plans now, it is more on monitoring and evaluation plans, he said.
The partners in project sites already have management plans. Now we are developing monitoring and evaluation plans to measure the effectiveness of these management plans.