February 25, 2019

New marine protected area established in the Batangas Province of the Philippines

News Source: California Academy of Sciences

The global marine community has cause to celebrate a conservation milestone in the Philippines. The Municipality of Tingloy on Maricaban Island in Batangas Province recently designated 54.4 acres (22.01 hectares) of thriving coral reef habitat as a marine protected area (MPA), only the second MPA to be established in the municipality. Located within the most biologically diverse waters on Earth, the new MPA protects against localized threats while bolstering an emerging ecotourism industry. The new protected area was championed by the local government and community of Tingloy, under the leadership of Mayor Mark Laurence F. Alvarez, along with several collaborating institutions, including the California Academy of SciencesDe La Salle University-Manila, and the local non-profits Pusod Inc. and the SEA Institute - VIP.

“The establishment of this new MPA—and its long-term monitoring—is significant because it recognizes the need to set aside areas for conservation before the reef is lost or damaged beyond its ability to come back,” says Dr. Terry Gosliner, the Academy’s Senior Curator of Invertebrate Zoology. “Artificial reefs will never be as diverse and healthy as natural reefs, so it’s always better to protect the reefs you have than to try to play Humpty Dumpty with a damaged or destroyed reef.”

The island of Maricaban is situated in the Verde Island Passage, a region considered to be the "center of the center" of marine biodiversity nestled between the island of Luzon to the north and Mindoro to the south. The new MPA—named Pirasan—encompasses a mature, healthy, and resilient reef ecosystem. Like all reefs, however, it faces threats from local pollution, sedimentation, coastal development, and global climate change.

In addition to establishing the new protected area, the municipality of Tingloy is deeply committed to monitoring the reef’s ongoing health. A two-year program designed by Academy scientists Drs. Terry Gosliner and Meg Burke in collaboration with Drs. Wilfredo Y. Licuanan of De La Salle University-Manila, Kent Carpenter of Old Dominion University, and Jeff Williams of the Smithsonian Institution empowers local residents to steward the reef. Residents routinely survey marine species indicative of reef health and monitor trash types and amounts along the shore. Community-driven results are then integrated with additional data collected by program scientists for synthesis into a “reef health report card” that establishes a baseline of comparison and measures the effectiveness of the MPA over time.

In addition to Pirasan, Tingloy is also finalizing plans for three other MPAs based on recommendations from Academy scientists and community input collected during earlier research expeditions in the region. In March of last year, Gosliner and Burke along with their program partners provided scientific justification for Pirasan’s protection when recommending locations to Tingloy government officials that would benefit from MPA status.

Due to the success of the only other MPA in Tingloy, which has been in place for over ten years, many local fishermen are now recognizing the positive impact of conservation measures in restoring and sustaining fish stocks: Fishermen are now harvesting more fish from the waters surrounding the MPA than they did before the MPA was established. Healthy reefs also open opportunities for earning new livelihoods from ecotourism and provide greater protection from storm surges caused by typhoons. Near Tingloy’s new MPA, a sandy beach is becoming a bustling tourist destination and launching point for visitors to witness the natural beauty of the protected area by boat and snorkeling.

“Tingloy is a community like so many in the Philippines, and elsewhere in the tropical world, that is trying to figure out how to feed their families in the face of climate change and diminishing resources,” says Dr. Meg Burke, Academy Director of Science Integration and Operations. “It is not always easy to recognize that the short-term sacrifice of establishing a marine protected area, which limits fishing activity and may mean your family has less to eat today or tomorrow, is worth it for the long-term gain of nurturing healthy reef ecosystems. Pirasan is a symbolic step toward recognizing greater future yields, more livelihood opportunities, and a brighter future.”