One of the benefits of traveling abroad is the opportunity to learn lessons from experts of other countries. On August 21 through September 3, 2010, I served as member of the Group of Experts for Asia for the United Nations Program for the Review of Assessments of the State of the Marine Environment meeting in the United Nations main office in New York City. Our group of more than 20 members met with the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Whole to the 65th session of the UN General Assembly. One of the members of the Expert Group was Dr. Renison Ruwa, Deputy Director of the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute at Mombasa, Kenya. He and I have common interest in marine protected areas. Here I write about lessons in coastal resource management that may be of interest to our people.
Kenya, as we already know, has unique terrestrial biodiversity, such as large species of mammals not found in the Philippines. However, the marine biodiversity has many species in common, especially fish and marine invertebrates. One of the marine ecosystems common to both countries is the coral reef.
In terms of human populations, Kenya has 40 million and the Philippines 90+ million. About 10% of Kenya’s population occupy coastal areas. In the Philippines, an archipelago, about 60-80% of the people live in coastal areas within 50 km from the shoreline. Both Kenyans and Filipinos are dependent on coastal and marine resources.
Because of the differences in the proportion of coastal populations to the total populations (10% versus 60-80%), it would appear that the Philippine coastal ecosystems are subjected to a relatively greater degree of exploitation pressure compared to Kenyan ecosystems. The Philippines should be concerned with this situation.
According to Dr. Ruwa, about 60% of coral reef areas in Kenya are marine parks that are totally protected by armed guards, leaving a smaller proportion (40%) for fishing by the people. In fact, Kenyan fishermen are complaining about this arrangement.
In contrast, only less than 5% of the Philippine coral reef area are protected, not by armed guards but mostly by coastal communities. There is a lesson here that we can learn: Kenya appears to have done a better job at protecting their reefs. Of course, our reef system is more extensive than Kenya’s, requiring more manpower and financial resources.
Tourism is a popular activity in both countries and both countries derive much income from tourists. In Kenya, very little of income from user fees goes to communities, but in the Philippines, as much as 75% go to the communities. In this regard, the Philippines has an edge over Kenya. But the drawback is that only few marine reserves in the Philippines are earning income from tourists. A lesson can be learned here: The national government and the local government units should promote more sustainable use of coastal areas for tourism purposes. To be able to do this, more marine reserves need to be established for sustainable development purposes, such as protect fisheries and bidiversity. To ensure success, dedicated and well trained teams should be hired to protect marine reserves, and not just by unpaid guards who volunteer their services.
Even though tourism is an income generating activity, we must not lose sight of the fact that the priority of Philippine marine protected areas in both Kenya and the Philippines is to conserve biodiversity to ensure high levels of fishery production now and in the future. This is because a certain critical density of any fish species is required to produce eggs and larvae that will replace the adults that are being continually fished by fishermen.
For purposes of maintaining a high level of commitment on the part of those involved in marine protected areas, the Philippines needs to periodically invite experienced experts from other countries that have successful programs of protection of coastal and marine ecosystems and their resources.