ACB chief pushes for marine biodiversity protection, conservation in Southeast Asia

In Photo: Asean Centre for Biodiversity Executive Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim (center) was recognized for her exemplary efforts in the protection of Tañon Strait Protected Seascape as the then-director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Biodiversity Management Bureau.

The Asean Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) is pushing for collective efforts in protecting and conserving Southeast Asia’s marine resources.

ACB Executive Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim highlighted the need to establish the interconnectivity of the Asean marine ecosystems to rally support at the regional level.

“As I take on the challenge as the executive director of the Asean Centre for Biodiversity, I hope to encourage more collective efforts in protecting and conserving the rich marine resources, not just of the Philippines, but of the entire Asean region. If we can establish the interconnectivity of the Asean marine ecosystems, it would be easier to support it at the regional level,” Lim, a former director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB), said in an ACB news release.

Protection of Tañon Strait

Lim added that there is a need to scale up the effort and learn from the experience in the Tañon Strait in the Visayas where three provinces came together for its protection “because vital marine resources, such as fisheries and other migratory species, transcend political boundaries.”

She likened the protection of the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape (TSPS) to the protection of Southeast Asia’s vast marine region, “where cooperation is needed among 10 countries to protect common sea areas, for marine biodiversity to thrive and better benefit the people of the region.”

Lim spoke at the Fourth Asia-Pacific Coral Reef Symposium (APCRS) in Cebu City early this month. The event was led by the DENR and the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute.

With the theme, “Coral Reefs of the Asia Pacific: Working Together Amidst Contemporary Challenges,” the APCRS aims to encourage collaborative actions among scientists, educators, managers, environmentalists, and relevant local stakeholders from key organizations in the Asia Pacific in conserving and sustainably managing the region’s marine resources.

Lim was recognized by APCRS for her leadership as director of the DENR-BMB which was instrumental in the protection of the TSPS and in the advancement of marine conservation efforts for important coastal ecosystems.

Oceana Philippines, international conservation group Rare and the DENR-BMB have worked together in crafting and implementing strong laws and policies that address problems in the oceans and building lasting solutions to protect marine habitats and rebuild the fisheries sector.

Their approaches focused on behavior change, community engagement, establishing networks of marine-protected areas, habitat protection, institutional strengthening and coastal resilience.

Community participation

“We learned a lot from the Tañon Strait experience—especially about the importance of community participation in its management and conservation. Let us continue this practice in other marine areas, as well,” said Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines. “Knowing that we have honest and dedicated public servants and partners, gives us an assurance that together, we can make things happen,” she added.

Among their undertakings was the SMARTSeas Philippines project funded by the Global Environment Facility and executed by the United Nations Development Programme.

This worked with the Protected Area Office and 17 local government units in promoting sustainable fisheries inside a marine key biodiversity area.

They also partnered on the Coastal and Marine Ecosystems Management Program, which include capacity building of various DENR staff, including protected-area supervisors and regional offices to run behavior change and social-marketing campaigns.

They developed the General Management Plan of Tañon Strait, which ensured that no commercial fishing operates within the area.

The collaborative activities and strategies at Tañon Strait addresses the challenge of “severe under-representation of marine habitats and ecosystems,” the ACB reported in the Protected Areas Gap Analysis in the Asean region.

The activities are also in line with the resolution on a network of marine-protected areas initiated by the ACB and passed by the Philippine government during the 12th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals in Manila in October 2017.

The resolution urged governments to “continue the development of transboundary area-based conservation measures, including marine-protected areas, particularly in the Asean region,” and encouraged them to uphold the development and implementation of ecological networks.

A third of world’s coastal and marine habitats

The Asean region is home to a third of the world’s coastal and marine habitats that include coral reefs, mangroves, estuaries, sandy and rocky beaches, seagrass and seaweed beds and other soft-bottom communities.

These habitats and their resident species provide breeding, nursing and feeding grounds for marine plants and animals, food and resources important to livelihoods of coastal communities.

It is estimated that the total potential sustainable annual economic net benefits per square kilometer of healthy coral reefs alone in the region range from $23,100 to $270,000, coming from fisheries, shoreline protection, tourism, recreation and aesthetic values.

However, the continuous overexploitation of coastal and marine resources, habitat change, pollution and climate change, among many other drivers of biodiversity loss threaten the rich marine resources of the region.

An intergovernmental organization that facilitates cooperation and coordination among the Asean member-states with relevant national governments, regional and international organizations on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, the ACB is the sole Asean center being hosted by the Philippines.

Image Credits: ACB photo


Jonathan L. Mayuga

Jonathan L. Mayuga is a journalist for more than 15 years. He is a product of the University of the East – Manila. An awardee of the J. G. Burgos Biotech Journalism Awards, BrightLeaf Agricultural Journalism Awards, Binhi Agricultural Journalism Awards, and Sarihay Environmental Journalism Awards.