Marine reserves in the Philippines: challenges, successes & perspectives (24 October 2009)

Establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is one way countries can build the resistance of their coral reefs, and the ecosystems and communities that depend on them, says Professor Ed Gomez, Chair of the CRTR Program’s Southeast Asian Centre of Excellence.

He addressed delegates to a technical workshop of the international waters conference in Cairns today on ‘Marine reserves in the Philippines: challenges, successes & perspectives’.

Man-made threats facing the reefs in the Philippines include increasing population and coastal settlement, habitat modification and coastal pollution, illegal fishing and destructive fishing. Research in the region demonstrates a 90% reduction on fish biodiversity in the central Philippines over the last 100 years which has serious implications for the sustainability of fisheries resources.

These effects are compounded by climate change. Rising sea levels are causing erosion, damage to coastal dwellings and infrastructure, and increasing storm density - demonstrated in this wet season by the devastating effects of typoons Ketsana, Parma and Melor.

Immediate anthropogenic threats to the ecosystems must be addressed to improve their chance of recovering from the adverse effects of global change. Establishing MPAs is one way to improve ecosystem resilience.

MPAs also assist in sustaining food and livelihood resources. One square kilometre of healthy coral reef is estimated to produces 20,000 kilograms of fish per year, enough to supply 400 people with 50 kilograms of fish. Filipino people are heavily dependent on protein from the sea with an estimated 50% of protein in their diet coming from the sea so healthy ecosystems absolutely underpin the country’s food security.

The Philippines has is a large network of MPAs. These have met with varying degrees of success, but are improving. In the mid-1990s, only 15% of MPAs had effective management, whereas in 2007, this increased to 25%.

Professor Gomez explained how networks of MPAs have been much more effective than single reserves in protecting ecosystems.  The CRTR Centre of Excellence based at the University of Philippines Marine Science Institute and its laboratory in Bolinao on the Lingayen Gulf, has worked with local governments to integrate MPA management in the region. A comparative study shows that a regional approach to MPA management significantly reduces costs.

Professor Gomez suggests that the network approach to MPAs could be scaled up for significant impact across the Coral Triangle, a region that is recognised as a treasure-trove of biodiversity.

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