Starweek Magazine

Blessings that flow

- JVM Francisco -

In an effort to care for the environment, local government units (LGUs) across the country have been undertaking a unique but effective initiative: giving up hectares of their fishing grounds to serve as marine sanctuaries. The strategy is unique because it starts from the community itself, and finds success in and is sustained by the community as well.

Their valiant endeavor to conserve Philippine marine life was recently recognized in the 2007 Most Outstanding Marine Protected Area (MPA) Awards.

The MPA Awards, given by the Marine Protected Areas Support Network made up of various government agencies, non-government organizations, and academic institutions, aims to recognize LGUs that give up more than 20 hectares of their fishing grounds for a minimum of three years as well as those that are able to display exemplary management strategies that ensure the functioning of their respective MPAs.

Creating an MPA entails limiting the types of fishing and recreational activities, if not totally restricting human activity, within a declared site. This inevitably means reducing the area available to municipal fishers. However, several studies have shown that designating reefs where fish can freely breed and grow to maturity eventually leads to a sustained “spillover” of fish outside the protected area. Fishermen in Sagay, Negros Oriental, for example, reported a 100 percent increase in average daily fish catch after eight years.

Also crucial to the success of the MPAs is LGU support for the alternative livelihoods of fishers whose fishing grounds have been reduced. Many LGUs supplement fishing income through tourism in the form of scuba diving-related activities, or ecotours that showcase their protected environment. Others provide soft loans and training for seaweed farming, fish processing, and handicraft weaving.

Nine finalists were chosen for their exemplary management strategies that ensure the functioning of their respective MPAs not only on paper but also in practice. These include the presence of an active management body, fiscal support for law enforcement activities, and a monitoring system to assess the MPA’s impacts.

Leading the top LGUs is first place winner, the Handumon/Libaong Marine Sanctuary in Jandayan Island, Getafe, Bohol. Situated in an area that is part of a large barrier reef teeming with fish, seashells, and thick mangroves, the sanctuary is all of 50 hectares established in 1995. Aside from the strong enforcement of fishery laws, the Handumon/Libaong Marine Sanctuary also has a people’s organization which has strengthened the management of the area. Among the activities they have prioritized are the regular planting of mangroves, coastal cleanups, and the setting up of alternative livelihood projects, primarily handicraft making. The sanctuary has also become a marine research station and this has resulted in an increased fish population. Having realized the benefits, the local people are determined to continue taking care of their MPA well into the future.

Taking second place is the Sagay Marine Reserve of Sagay City, Negros Occidental. The reserve was declared a fish sanctuary in 1983 and continues to be an effective leader and model among MPAs today. It covers 32,000 hectares of coastal waters rich in coral reefs and populated by blue crabs, sea urchins, abalone, sea cucumbers and various seashells. It is a well-established MPA supported by an efficient fishery law enforcement program by the LGU that includes seaborne patrols, registration of fishers and boats, and regulation of fishing permits.

As a measure of the MPA’s success, the average fish catch around the area increased from 3.27 kilos per fisherman per day in 1997 to 6.41 kilos in 2005. The City of Sagay spent some P8 million for protection from 1997 to 1999, but increased the worth of fish caught through sustainable fishing by more than P18 million in the same period.

In 1997, the Sagay Marine Reserve won the Galing Pook Award for innovation, being one of the first LGU-initiated MPAs and the first to protect fisheries and different habitats like mangroves and seagrass beds. It is now a learning area for MPA managers, academe, research institutions, and other local government units.

Rounding up the top MPAs is the Twin Rocks Fish Sanctuary of Brgy. San Teodoro, Mabini, Batangas. Efforts to establish the MPA met with initial resistance, but this was successfully countered by seminars, trainings, and cross-visits to other MPAs. The 22.9-hectare sanctuary, now accepted and supported by the community, focuses on increasing awareness of coastal resource management among community members, and strict law enforcement. 

Equally impressive are the six other shortlisted finalists, the LGUs of Calapan City and Gloria in Oriental Mindoro, Ayungon in Negros Oriental, Ipil in Zamboanga Sibugay, Tukuran in Zamboanga del Sur, and Cortes in Surigao del Sur. These were selected from more than a hundred LGUs in the country that have reserved a portion of their municipal waters as MPAs or fish sanctuaries.

During the recent awards ceremony held at the Celebrity Sports Plaza, Diliman Quezon City, the winning LGUs received prizes from the United Nations Development Program, German Technical Cooperation, DENR, and Philippine Airlines. But all LGUs with effective MPAs are winners in their own right, each benefitting from a bigger fish catch, higher income, greater appreciation for nature, much healthier reefs and consequently a much healthier community.

The biggest winner, however, is Philippine marine life, with all of the LGUs joining forces to protect an important aspect of the country’s environment. Indeed, blessings have flowed from the sea to the Filipinos – and back.








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