Community action to save Philippines’ largest marine protected area

Tanon

CEBU CITY— The health and resilience of the Philippines’ biggest marine protected area, the Tañon Strait, could be well-preserved after local leaders of coastal communities in Cebu and Negros drafted a sustainability plan geared towards fishing practices and protection of marine species.

At least 400 municipal and barangay leaders from 298 barangays and 42 coastal towns gathered to consolidate and harmonize local policies and political boundaries of the 15-kilometer municipal fishing zones.

Spanning 521,018 hectares of fishing grounds, Tañon Strait is the largest marine protected area in the county and is about five times bigger than Tubbataha Reefs in Palawan. It is also a pathway for migrating dolphins and whale sharks, sightings of which have led to income-generating ecotourism projects in different parts of Cebu and Negros.

“A piece of the solution to overfishing is to separate small-scale fisher folks from commercial fishermen but it only works if you can enforce that separation. Mayors in the area raised the challenge of how to do that and we hope their framework will adopt the guidelines provided by scientific experts to produce more informed policies,” says Dr. Mike Hirschfield, chief scientist and strategy officer at global conservation group Oceana.

Oceana, together with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Protected Areas Management Bureau (DENR PAMB) and Rare Philippines, spearheaded the first Tañon Strait Stakeholder’s Summit and General Assembly last month as part of its efforts to expand projects in the country.

Tañon Strait became a marine protected area (MPA) in 1998 when then president Fidel Ramos signed into law Presidential Proclamation 1234.

Hirschfield explains that commercial fishing can efficiently scoop out fish that is equivalent to six month’s worth of catch for community fishermen in just a day so it is not a very sustainable way of fishing, especially for those living along the reserve.

Some 43,000 fishermen depend on the 27-km wide Tañon Strait for their livelihood. A daily fish catch of two kilos today by local community fishers is barely for sustenance—a big departure from an easy catch of five kilos in the 1970s.

Protecting the reserve is crucial, both for the community and the biodiversity in the area, Hirschfield.

Marine scientist Dr. Lemmuel Aragones, associate professor at the Institute of Environment Science and Meteorology at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, notes that the new management plan should follow the recommended conduct of scientific baseline studies to determine the total fish catch volume in the reserve over the years.

The recent data on Tañon Strait is based on a 2004 policy paper written by the team of renowned marine scientist Stuart Green.

“The lack of baseline data is a setback. An effective management plan is based on sound science and solid information. Otherwise, it will tend to fail like most Philippine plans on managing natural resources,” says Dr. Aragones.

The management plan will undergo a final technical review before it will be submitted to the Environment Secretary.

Text and photo by Anna Valmero

Anna Valmero
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Anna Valmero

Social Media and Citizen Journalism at Philippine EnviroNews
Anna Valmero
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