Studies cite need to enhance marine protected areas

- Rose de la Cruz -

MANILA, Philippines - An existing program to protect the country’s marine resources from depletion due to overexploitation and natural causes that affect the marine habitat and biodiversity called Marine Protected Areas (MPA) needs to be accelerated and improved, according to studies in 2006.

Even with the status and rate of establishment of MPAs, the studies said, “it would take 100 years for us to be able to protect at least 10 percent of our coral reefs.”

To accelerate the establishment and improve the effectiveness of MPAs, one strategy proposed is through MPA networking or carefully grouping MPAs to achieve biodiversity conservation and fisheries enhancement, or both.

The National Marine Protected Area Network Forum (NMPANF) said networks are defined by connectivity, either ecological or social. Ecological networks ensure that natural connections between and within sites enhance ecological functions and benefits one or more MPAs.

Social networks link people and institutions through exchange of information, experiences, good practices and resource sharing. The MPA networks provide a greater area of protection, it added.

MPAs are marine areas reserved by law and are governed by specific rules and guidelines to manage activities and protect part or the entire enclosed coastal and marine environment.

The Philippines is the “hottest” of all the marine biodiversity hotspots in the world. As MPAs are undisturbed by destructive human activities, they help reduce the threats to marine life and their habitats. Without MPAs such resources would be greatly threatened, if not lost.

 Since MPAs protect the marine habitat, the fishes are allowed to grow bigger and the extra food is likely to spill over to adjacent areas. As a result more diverse species are attracted to the MPAs and this significant allows for species-specific conservation value such as pawikan (marine turtle) and butanding (whale shark).

An MPA is usually chosen for having a high number and kind of marine life and/or because it serves a special ecological function like spawning or feeding ground for one or more marine species. An ideal sanctuary or MPA is large enough to include sections from all critical habitats such as coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves or other habitats and they are interconnected to provide benefits to each other.

In many areas, the primary objective for MPAs are to sustain fisheries utilization in the adjacent fishing areas, protect and conserve ecosystems and their rich variety of associated organisms. MPAs provide habitat and protection to large and reproductively mature individuals of various marine species and are thus important sources of eggs and larvae that settle in areas even outside the protected area.

The Fisheries Code or RA 855 allows local government units to set aside at least 15 percent, where applicable, of their total coastal areas for MPAs. These areas shall be automatically designated as fish sanctuaries by the LGUs in consultation with the community and BFAR.

The country now has over 1,000 MPAs but their rate of sustainability is somewhat low because of lack of LGU support, the rate of MPA management effectiveness doubles from 10 to 15 percent to around 30 percent. Thus it is important for LGUs to embrace MPAs as part of their investments for biodiversity conservation and fisheries management.












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