Marine reserves

Save the fishes to catch tourists!

The aquatic life is one of the major natural resources of the Philippines for tourism. There are a lot of diving spots all over the country such as in Apo  Island, Tubbataha Reef, Puerto Galera, Malapascua Island,Coron Island… However, before doing the advertisement of a diving spot, we should be assured that the marine life will not disappear. There are a lot of factors which could deteriorate this resource: pollution, illegal fishing, dynamite and cyanure fishing,over-fishing, boats’ anchoring, typhoons… Tourism and marine life usually do not go well together, as we can see when going to Boracay or certain diving sites of Mindoro. This is why we wanted to talk about the most important phase when a site is opened to tourism: the creation of  a marine reserve.

A guard boat from the Sagay reserve

Stephanie is an American volunteer on Guimaras Island for Peacecorps, an American organization who send volunteers for two years in different places in the world (see her blog here).She began her volunteering by learning the local dialect and by asking the community what were there needs concerning the costal management. Some of them told her that they would like the city to have a marine sanctuary in order to increase the fish population and to attract tourists. Stephanie got a grant from USAID and worked with the local government to determine the marine reserve’s frontiers, train the fisher folks, do an inventory of the biodiversity, and make the legal declaration for the sanctuary. After one year and a half, 16 hectares were dedicated to this new marine reserve.  The main obstacle? The lack of commitment and knowledge from the local government despite the involvement of the local communities.

The city of Sagay (Negros Occidental) is really proud of the success of its marine reserve, often quoted as an example. Created in 1995 and measuring 32,000 hectares today (in the reserve noncommercial fishing is allowed but it includes also some marine sanctuaries where fishing is prohibited) , it is mainly the result of the willingness of the local government to preserve the natural resources of the city. However, if the project is politicized, we should worry that if politicians were about to change, there would be a lack of continuity in the policy. In Sagay city, this issue seems irrelevant. In fact, the influent Maranon family has been in charge of the city for decades. The marine sanctuary was created by one Maranon family’s member, who was the mayor of the city. Then he became governor and his brother took over his succession. Recently the brother became congressman, and now the nephew is running the city…

The Sea Museum of Sagay

Anyway, the priority is thus the marine sanctuary.  The first issue is the fight against illegal fishingin the reserve. There are a lot of controls but it is quite difficult to fight against intruders that are from other island and who take advantage of bad weather to act. The second one is the growth of the aquatic flaura and fona. The Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT) came to install an electric machine that helps corals to settle and grow and studies are conducted to see the evolution of the population of some species. The third issue is the education of the population and tourists to preserve the area. A Sea Museum has been built for children (it is private but guess what, the main donor is a certain Maranon…). We can tell, it is a very interesting museum, where children can learn by playing. They are told about the different and endangered marine species, the way of living on the cost, the rules to respect to protect the environment and so on. The last issue is to include the community in the project so that they are the one benefitting from tourism. The Community-Based Tourism project is not yet complete but there are already a cooperative of boat drivers and guides were trained to handle tourists.

Inside the museum

The results are encouraging: with a budget of PHP 3 million per year, the fish population has considerably increased and the number of tourists has increased every year (4700 last year).

We must wait several years to know if these two marine reserves would have been able to  preserve the marine life but we think that it is two promising projects that gather all the ingredients to be a great success.



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