In 2005, CI-Philippines began working in the Verde Island Passage (VIP), a globally significant marine biodiversity corridor that’s home to whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), giant clams (Tridacna gigas) and marine mammals. It is also a major sea lane, with commercial and fishing vessels regularly passing through to reach major international ports.
In this corridor, we initiated the process that led to the emergence and growth of the marine protected areas (MPA) network. So it was a proud day for us on CI’s Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape team when two marine protected areas in the Verde Island Passage project site — Twin Rocks Marine Sanctuary and Agsalin Fish Sanctuary — were recently recognized as among the best managed MPAs in the Philippines.
Starting at just over 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) in 2005, the MPA network now covers more than 17,000 hectares (42,000 acres) of critical habitats. Being among the older MPAs in the area and thus more able to demonstrate conservation benefits, Twin Rocks and Agsalin garnered high scores in the Para El Mar (For the Sea) MPA competition and were chosen as among the 10 finalists from a field of more than 100 nominees from across the country.
As a highly popular dive site, Twin Rocks helps bring in considerable income to the local community and local government. In addition, private sector support has also been instrumental in improving law enforcement efforts in the waters of Balayan Bay where Twin Rocks is located, further deterring illegal fishing activities.
Since the establishment of Agsalin Fish Sanctuary, scientists and locals have observed recovery of corals and maintenance of live coral cover within the protected area. Local fishers in areas adjacent to the MPA or within its buffer zone have also observed improvements in their fish catch, demonstrating the so-called “spill-over effect” of increased protection.
The local managers of the VIP MPA network are definitely working hard to improve marine resource management in their municipalities, and we are working right along with them. Plans for future work include improving the management effectiveness of existing MPAs, developing local climate change adaptation plans, promoting mangrove reforestation and establishing more mangrove conservation areas, and improving law enforcement.
The national MPA competition is held every two years. One of our VIP partners in the Batangas provincial government, Lorie Sollestre, told us, “We are working very hard to protect and effectively manage our MPAs, and I’m optimistic that when the next Para El Mar comes along, we will even have more MPAs qualifying to join.”
Certainly, things are looking up.
Corina Bernabe is the communications coordinator for CI-Philippines. Learn more about this story here.