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Essay: Quantifying success of Marine Protected Areas in the Philippines

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  • Published: 15 October 2019*
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Marine Protected Areas

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are established areas that look to maintain the environmental health and biodiversity of a marine ecosystem REF. Marine Policy article 6 from the IUCN defines an MPA as “a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.” REF. MPAs are not only essential to the ecosystem health but can also bring economic benefits through local fishermen earning more through higher catch, and social benefits through the increasing demand for scuba-diving and snorkelling, which in turn bring economic benefits. However without vigilant management, there can be a total breakdown of ecosystem leaving areas worse off than they initially started in.

Establishing MPAs in the Philippines

Marine Protected Areas are of vital importance to the Philippines not only environmentally but also economically. The first marine protected area was set up in 1974, The Sumilon Island Marine Sanctuary. It was designated to stop fishing practices such as blast fishing which were damaging the coral reef as well as taking fish from the ecosystem. This MPA was able to set the cornerstone for management of coral reefs in the Philippines for over a decade, with fish abundance increasing 115% in 6 years REF and an increase in the level of fish caught just outside the marine protected area, showing that there were large spill-over effects. In 1985, Apo Island Marine Protected Area was established REF. This was a community led management project of a coral reef, and to this day still manages to be a successful. This bottom up management, led by local fishermen has since stood as a model for over 600 more MPAs to be set up, Over the following 40 years the number and size of MPAs established has rapidly increased (Fig 1). However, a large number of these MPAs are seen simply as “Paperparks.” These are MPAs that are set up by governing bodies to simply fulfil quotas and reach legislation targets, and are often not managed at all, REF. In 2016, it was reordered that only 339 of the MPAs are managed at a community level and of these on 29 had input from a national or international level.

Impacts of MPAs in the Philippines

There have been many successful Marine Protected Area in the Philippines. These successes have quantified through several different methods. including measuring percentage cover of corals and levels of biodiversity in reefs.  Established in 1985 these Balicasag island and Pamilacan island were the first of many marine protected areas managed by locals, known as “bottom-up management” this is where little help is provided by governments. Through the establishment of these marine protected areas, there are not only benefits to the ecosystem help within the MPA but also in the ‘spill-over zone’, an area just outside of the no take zone (NTZ), often benefits from the designation. Demonstrated by Balicasag island, in the 14 years after the designation in 1985 there was an increase of 119% of living hard coral cover, and in the area just outside the NTZ, an increase of 67%.REF  There was however a decrease in the levels of hard coral between 1999 and 2002 of 20% in the spill-over zone.REF This was due to the lack of input from management levels which did not create and implement marker buoys which dive boats could anchor to which led to the destruction of a high level of hard coral. REF

However between an initial increase in health of an ecosystem is only beneficial if the MPA is managed effectively in the long term. As seen in the Balicasag MPA it is clear to see the increase in levels of fish between 1985 and 1986 (Fig 2). However due to a lack of management after the first year of the designation, the levels of fish rapidly declined through over fishing. This effect was also seen in the Pamilican MPA, having seen an increase in health of the reef between 1985 and 1998 between 1999 and 2003 living hard coral levels dropped by 20%, the reason for this decline was thought to be a result of the increasing boat traffic, many of these dive boats who caused a large amount of damage by dropping anchors on the reefs.

It is not always down to management however that is the cause of decline of an ecosystem. A decline of caesionids was thought to be the reason for the lack of target fish in the Mabini Island MPA REF. Sightings of caesionids went from2309 down to 409 per 500m2 in 1999 REF in the Mabini MPA. Caesionids are the prey of many of the target fish looked at in the survey which assesses the health of an MPA. MPAs have not only benefitted the health of ecosystems but have also helped locals economically. Sumillion island the first of the MPAs established in the Philippines is a key example of this. In the first ten years after designation, the levels of fish caught annually increase from 14t/km2 to 36t/km2 REF. Creating a large economic boost for the local area.

Despite these successes, the majority of MPAs in the Philippines are unsuccessful with a report 23% of 400 Philippine MPAs being seen as successful. For example, Bohol, Cepu and Negros Island are all seen as total failures, despite a huge input from NGOs and the Philippine government,

It was discovered that communities that had stuck to traditional values and were cooperative were more likely to manage successful MPAs. This was through a study that looked at the size of the village, the stability and level of conflict and the level of tourism and farming amongst other factors. All of which generated a score as to the likelihood of the success of an MPA if it was to designated. Furthermore this study showed that it was the percentage of the village that held the occupation of a farmer that was the most influential factor as to the likelihood of success of an MPA. REF A similar study also stated that the number and chance of a visit from a government official dramatically affected the

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