It works!

We never doubted it once. Fish sanctuaries do work if managed properly. After eight years of rehabilitation activities and close monitoring of the changes, the reef at Dive and Trek, San Pablo, Batangas has proven its worth to food security. The school of more than 2,000 jacks that grew in size due to the health of the reef migrated to deeper water and was reportedly caught by fisherfolks last year. It was said that approximately 30 tubs or banyeras (can accomodate as much as 50 kilos each)were caught.Divers and snorkelers who frequent the area may be dismayed by this, but it is actually a cause for celebration. The spill-over effect of a "no-touch" zone contributes to increase in fish catch. The reef is still in tip-top shape, with plenty of reef fish, thriving corals (despite the typhoon last December) and lots of tourists. The latter translate to economic benefit to the resorts catering to their needs, to the boat operators whose boats are rented for a trip to the sanctuary. Visitations also mean education, as more people learn about the reef and leave the place more connected with the natural world. This news is very encouraging to communities, resort owners and developers who wish to protect their "house reef" by going into reef rehabilitation. It fast tracks recovery of over fished and damaged reef areas. ECORE projects can be an excellent CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives of private corporations.

Connecting the Dots

The Inconvenient Truth is indeed inconveninent for most to accept and perhaps acknowledge. Al Gore in the movie paints a deplorable future for planet earth and all life forms that live in it, including us. He eloquently presents the current situation and the trends that had been occuring all around us for decades, most of which seem trivial and isolated for a human being. But as he said, if we connect the dots, we will see the entire picture. Everything is indeed connected to everything else. The issues pertaining to the natural environment can no longer be ignored. Our very survival depends on our capability to stop our denials and act now. As I type, glaciers are melting, life forms are dying and becoming extinct (even before they are identified by science), viruses are mutating and the world is changing faster than it needs to. The most thought provoking part of the movie is when Al Gore said if we continue what we had been doing for years, that the map of the world may have to be re-drawn because most of the coastal areas will end up underwater. I wonder what will happen to the Philippines? How much of our 7,000+ islands will be underwater? He also exposes a conspiracy to play down the scientific projections of the future of our only home. Get a copy of the DVD and WATCH it! Then tell your friends,family and as many people about it. It will not win an Oscar for nothing.

San Pablo Fish Sanctuary case study

MEC’s* most successful seeding site is found in Bauan, Batangas. It is an over-fished reef that had been declared as a fish sanctuary in 1994 through the initiative of a resort. MEC conducted three seeding operations in 1996, 1998 and 2000. The partner-stewards are Dive and Trek resort and the Barangay San Pablo community.

Although the reef is a no-take zone, diving, swimming and snorkeling are allowed. Through the years, significant changes have occurred in the reef, resulting in benefiting not only the marine environment but also the partner-stewards and the other stakeholders. Changes include an increase in fish density and biodiversity, and recruitment of corals and other benthic organisms by the shells of the seeded giant clams. In a matter of six years, the over-fished reef that started out with very little fish became a very productive and stable ecosystem; increasing fish catch in the surrounding areas outside of the MPA.

Although the observed changes were mostly anecdotal, they have brought about benefits not just for the reef and its inhabitants but also to the people relying on it for livelihood and recreation. Other benefits include increased tourist traffic to the MPA. A place that was once visited only by SCUBA divers has now become a popular destination for families, groups locals and non-divers who wish to swim and snorkel to see a well-enhanced reef with giant clams, plenty of fish and marine creatures. This has translated into increased profit by the resort operator, as well as increased environmental awareness and appreciation of reef protection and management among the people.

*MEC stands for Marine Ecosystem Council, a volunteer organization co-founded by Louie and Chen in 1996.

Clam seeding as a reef enhancement technique in Marine Protected Areas

Abstract of paper presented by Chen to the IUCN-World Commission on Protected Area Third Southeast Asia Regional Meeting, April 2003

Giant clams are bivalves that had been declared endangered by the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) of flora and fauna. Seven out of nine species are found in the Philippines. Out of the seven species, the Tridacna gigas is being cultures by the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI). The Marine Ecosystem Council, Inc. (MEC) has partnered with UP-MSI and had been deploying cultured Tridacna gigas since 1996 in marine protected areas of the Philippines. MEC has established various project components including site selection, site evaluation, clam collection, training, seeding, IEC, monitoring and laternative livelihood through community-based sustainable tourism in MPA. MEC has also developed seeding techniques that promote diver safety and ensures higher survival rate of the seeded clams. Monitoring activities show that when partner-communities protect clams until they reach sexual maturity, it hastens recovery of over-fished areas. In MEC seeding sites, there was an observed increase in fish density and biodiversity. Clam seeding is an activity that aims to save endangered species from extinction consequently enhance the ecology of marine protected areas, bringing about direct and indirect benefits to stakeholders. In the long run, these benefits also translate to food security for people living in the coastal areas.

A Treasure Trove of Life

From Health and Lifestyle May 2003

Being an archipelago, the Philippines’ coastal resources play a significant role in the lives of 40 % of its population that lives near the sea. While the entire country focuses on securing food for 70 million people through coastal resource management or CRM, only a few declared marine sanctuaries are actually being managed. Most remain protected areas in paper but are left exploited and unprotected. Although much of the destruction with the use of poison and explosives had been curved through efforts of both the government and NGO sectors, management and protection of most marine resources are still lacking.
In a small coastal barangay in Batangas however, I have discovered a small band of women and fisherfolks bent on protecting their sanctuary in order to ensure a better future for their children. The place is called Hugom and is located at the western end of a long stretch of beach that hugs Sigayan Bay. Twenty three kilometers from the town of San Juan through well-paved road, this coastal community has formed itself into organized groups with the help of NGOs addressing issues on livelihood, environmental education, forestry and fisheries. Late last year the environmental NGO Marine Ecosystem Council, Inc. (MEC) became their newest partner. MEC seeded cultured giant clams in the marine sanctuary in order to fast track recovery and consequently enhance its ecology. Clam seeding is known to increase fish density and biodiversity when the bivalves are placed on the reef and protected from poaching.
The week-end that I volunteered to help MEC monitor the clams on the reef, I had a chance to talk to Berting Sulit, the President of the people’s organization.

“Protecting the sanctuary has not been easy for us. It was an uphill climb because we had to deal with a lot of resistance from members of the community as well as fishermen from other barangays. Some of them refuse to respect the “no-take” provision of the municipal ordinance. They defy the rules and fish inside the sanctuary. But this was only in the beginning,” Ka Berting said.

When these same people realized that their catch in the fishing zones had been increasing, only then did they start to believe that sanctuaries do work. They provide refuge for fish and marine life, which in time transfer over to the surrounding reef areas due to increase in competition for food and space. The concept has been proven in successfully managed sanctuaries like Apo Island in Dumaguete or in Sitio Balanoy in Mabini, Batangas. Eventually the people who used to resist the idea became partners and advocates themselves.
And so it was with this knowledge that I ventured into the marine sanctuary one cloudless sunny morning to find the clams and check on their conditions. My companions and I swam from the shore to a reef that resembles giant fingers spread out on a sandy bottom. Between the fingers are trenches or canyons covered with sand and rubble. As we skimmed the surface, the brilliant reflections of the sun across the reef danced with the waves and melted with the radiant colors of the marine life forms below.

It was January and the water was cooler. At this time of year cold water from deeper depths rise up to the surface bringing with it a lot of nutrients. This natural process called upwelling brings about a profusion of activities on the reef. Increased food result to feeding frenzy among different organisms across the food chain. We swam and dived deeper following the slope cutting through a thick school of silvery fishes voraciously feeding on microscopic plankton in the water column. A band of parrotfishes that appeared to have been dipped in pastel watercolor paints scurried in front of us. Two of them started biting off a piece of knobby coral creating a scraping sound. From the bottom, long sea whips stretched out into the blue water towards the sun. Their tiny flowery polyps fluidly moved with the current as they filtered nutrients from the water. In between were brown basket sponges in various sizes, some clustered together like newly erupted volcanoes. I inspected one large sponge and saw a cleverly camouflaged stone fish attached to it. This venomous fish relies on its ability to change color based on where it has landed, to escape predation. Long sharp dorsal spines can inject venom which may not kill, but can inflict a nasty wound, cause severe pain and fever to an unsuspecting diver.

At forty feet, we came upon a lovely coral garden. Blue and green damsel fishes darted in and out of table corals, collectively reacting to perceived disturbance. A family of lionfishes were hovering near orange and red colored sponges, displaying their long venomous spines. In the center of a large coral head were eight Tridacna gigas or giant clams seeded last October. One of them was a twelve year old spawner measuring approximately ¾ of a meter. Its yellowish mantle was dotted with iridescent green blotches highlighted with bright blue spots. The outer shell was covered with minute marine organisms like shrimps and tiny crabs living among beds of algae and sponges.

As I swam on top of it to conduct a closer inspection, it reacted with a jolting movement of its shells, releasing a forceful spurt of water. This quick reaction is a good indicator of its health. I checked its stability knowing full well that this species of clam is not attached to the substrate, its mere weight anchors it to the bottom. After searching for the rest of the seeded clams and inspecting their conditions, we ventured a bit deeper towards a large pinnacle we have named after a diver friend and head and neck surgeon Dr. Bernie Singson. The large off-shore rock formation called “Bahura ni Bernie” is sticking out from a depth of 110 feet, its top at 80 feet is densely covered with soft and hard corals. Huge fan corals adorn the west and south walls. We decided to stay near the top to look for the bright blue tunicates often attached to rocks and corals. We found a rather big colony bunched up like bouquets. It is interesting to know that animals like these are now the focus of research for possible source of compounds that may produce medicines for cancer. Close to the colony, on the sandy bottom was a cone shell. It is another marine organism which may in the future be the source of salvation for many human illnesses. Just like tropical rainforests, the coral jungle is a treasure trove for possible cures to diseases afflicting man, a medicine cabinet of endless possibilities. As we surfaced from the dive, I couldn’t help but be thankful that there are communities like Hugom that put so much effort in protecting the marine environment and the creatures that rely on the reef for food, habitat and survival. Such effort in the end also translates to ensuring our very own survival.