Last week’s column talked about two small experimental islands (Sumilon and Apo) showing sustainable development of fisheries and biodiversity resources. Let us now consider scaling up these two cases to include larger marine areas. The idea is to enlarge our area of concern from small islands to larger islands and finally to the whole Philippine archipelago consisting of thousands of islands through our established political systems.
The community approaches of making our coastal areas recover their previous status five or six decades ago in terms of the diversity and biomass of biological resources can be scaled up from the barangay/municipal scale, where our protected areas are at this point in time, to the provincial scale.
For a province to exercise direct roles in marine protection, it is not really necessary to have all the municipalities participate, only a majority of the coastal municipalities (and this is probably the reality today) is required for a province-wide involvement in the setting up of marine protected areas consisting of coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds and other coastal systems.
Such involvement of the majority of coastal municipalities is a challenge to all governors to show effective leadership in moving forward the development of their provinces in a step to provide a means to reduce poverty among coastal populations.
The impact of a province-wide coastal development would be significant, worthy of praise from all quarters especially from the press and would be a boost to the reputation of provincial governors.
This, of course, requires a monitoring system to show the actual benefits of marine protection and management. This close monitoring is lacking at this time.
The three-year term of governors and mayors is not enough to show increased fish catches because spillover in reserves do not occur until about a decade of protection, but three years are sufficient to demonstrate increased fish density and fish species richness in fully protected marine areas.
The next level of action would be at the regional level under the Regional Development Council, which should coordinate the regional program on management networking of marine reserves. A coordinating mechanism will have to be worked out to deal with inter-regional relations.
Is this possible, given the conditions of the governance structure and dynamics at this time?
The overall impact of all regions on fisheries and biodiversity resources would be great at the scale of 10 years because spillover of larger adult fish, hence greater biomass, would be expected at this time scale. This biomass spillover would show in the increased catches of fishers.
At the same time, it is possible that tourism will come in to increase the value and services of protected coastal ecosystems. At the present time, our coastal resources are mostly depleted that few tourist would be attracted to them.
The scenario just described would happen only if our local government units will be united behind the call to establish no-take marine protected areas throughout the whole archipelago. If 30 percent of the total area of Philippine coral reefs (ca 25,000 sq km), and some of our mangrove and seagrass areas are protected from fishing and from physical destruction, we will progress toward the restoration of the fish biomass on our coral reefs estimated at ca 100 to 150 tons per sq km in these protected areas instead of the five to 10 tons at the present time.
But most importantly, the areas outside of these protected areas will have high fish biomass from which we can be assured of a constant supply of fish for our needs.
And we can expect that every square kilometer or 100 hectares of reef would yield at least 15 tons of fish every year, instead of the very low couple of tons from our devastated and degraded coral reefs at this time.