BEING one of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world, there is no question that the Philippine seas are blessed with rich marine life.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB) Director Cristina Marlene P. Rodriguez pointed out during the “Partners’ Forum: People and the Sea in Davao City” on October 9 at the Ritz Hotel at Garden Oases that the country is home to one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world.
"In our marine waters, we can find the global epicenter of marine shorefish biodiversity, the Verde Island Passage. We have the Apo Reef Natural Park, the second largest contiguous reef in the world, next to the Great Barrier Reef. We have Danajon Bank, one of the only six double barrier reefs in the planet," she said, adding that the country also hosts 464 reef building coral species.
The Philippine waters is also home to 10,000 species of marine life.
Rodriguez said the rich marine environment in the country also supports more than 64 million people in the coastal communities and has made the Philippines one of the top fish-producing countries in the world. The country's fishing industry had a total volume of 4.3 million metric tons or a value of P228.94 billion in 2016
However, she pointed out that the current state of the marine ecosystem in the country is not without any threats.
"Our marine resources are threatened by exploitation, unsustainable practices, and pollution," Rodriguez said.
There is also a lot of pressure being put upon marine resources due to the demands of the market. This means that there is a lot of fishing being done but the catch is dwindling.
Marine environments are degraded, leading to lower fish catch in certain areas.
Marine protected areas
In a bid to save the marine life and ensure food security in the future, public and private institutions have partnered to push for the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the country.
"The establishment of marine protected areas...is the de facto strategy to manage the coastal environment in the country," Rodriguez said.
In the public sector, the DENR is currently implementing the Agos ng Buhay or the Coastal and Marine Ecosystem Management Program (CMEMP). The program is a holistic program of the agency where it builds the capacities of its regional team to implement a more effective integrated coastal management.
There is also the SMARTSeas Project being implemented by BMB that complements CMEMP. The program is supported by United Nations Development Programme, and funded by Global Environment Facility.
Dr. Vincent V. Hilomen, project manager of the SMARTSeas Project, said the program is currently focusing and monitoring five pilot sites all over the country. These are the Verde Island Passage, Southern Palawan, Tañon Strait, Lanuza Bay, and Davao Gulf.
The four-year old program is working with the public and private sector "reduce and arrest the rapid degradation of marine and coastal habitats through strengthening of marine protected areas and establishment of MPA networks."
In the Philippines, there are currently 1,816 locally managed MPAs and 43 centrally managed MPAs covering 3.1 million hectares of coastal and marine areas in the country.
However, Rodriguez pointed out that not all of these sites are effectively managed.
"In a study conducted by our marine experts in the country only 10 to 15 percent of MPAs have been effective in the protection of the resources it intends to preserve," she said.
Rodriguez said some of these ineffective MPAs have not properly identified what it really wanted to protect. Hence, not being properly managed.
To help improve the MPAs in the country, Rodriguez said there is a need to establish a science-informed MPA netwrok in key biodiversity areas.
Under the SMARTSeas Project, Hilomen said in partnership with WWF Philippines, they have engaged the team of the Davao Integrated Development Program for the creation of a MPA network in Davao Gulf.
Ricky Biyo, SMARTSeas Davao Gulf program manager, said this will include 19 MPA sites that are being monitored by the SMARTSeas Project. Davao Gulf has a total of 45 MPAs.
Hilomen said the network will allow the development of a roadmap that will help sustain the project.
Biyo said the network will involve the local chief executives where they can discuss programs and initiatives for the strengthening of MPAs in their areas.
He said this will allow better coordination among local government units in protecting their coastal and marine areas.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez also said they are also pushing for the setting of standards in the management of MPAs around the country. It was also recommended that there is a need to implement financing schemes for the management of MPAs and its networks.
Rodriguez said if the condition of the biodiversity of the country's coastal ecosystems are improved and enhanced, it will be more resilient to effects of man-made and natural pressures.
"In a study done by Dr. (Angel C.) Alcala in 2004, he showed that reefs that are good and excellent condition are expected to sustainably provide up to 20 MT of fish catch per square kilometer per year," she said.
Rodriguez said, "Given the extent of environmental problems that the country is facing we need to go beyond business as usual. We need to be bolder, more aggressive, and open to new ideas."