Mindoro, Philippines — Two marine protected areas in the Verde Island Passage (VIP) were recognized in a nationwide competition as among the best managed in the country, making it to the top ten circle in a field of 117 contenders.
Twin Rocks Marine Sanctuary in Mabini, Batangas and Agsalin Fish Sanctuary in Gloria, Oriental Mindoro, were honored as finalists of the Para El Mar competition in awarding rites held at the University of the Philippines on August 31, 2011. Twin Rocks Marine Sanctuary also received a cash prize of P35,000 for placing third in the competition. The top spot and P100,000 cash prize went to the Bangaan Marine Sanctuary in Zamboanga Sibugay.
Now on its third run, the Para El Mar is held every two years and seeks to recognize and provide incentives for best practices in marine protected area (MPA) management. It is organized by the Marine Protected Areas Support Network, a multi-sectoral group from government and non-government organizations, people's organizations and academic institutions.
The Para El Mar award screens nominees based on management effectiveness, bio-physical and ecological impacts, and social and economic benefits.
Twin Rocks Marine Sanctuary
Twin Rocks, established in 1991, is among the country’s older MPAs. It boasts of good coral cover and supports highly diverse coral and reef fish species, as well as schools of commercially important fish species like fusiliers, surgeonfishes, snappers and rabbitfishes. Twin Rocks also amply demonstrates the potential economic benefits that can be gained from conserving an area’s natural resources. As a highly popular dive site, Twin Rocks helps bring in considerable income to the local community and local government.
“We are very proud and I think that this award gives much-needed encouragement to the people and local government of Mabini and of other Batangas municipalities that are involved in MPA management,” said Lorie Sollestre of the Batangas provincial environment and natural resources office. “We are working very hard to protect and effectively manage our MPAs, and I’m optimistic that when the next Para El Mar comes along, we will even have more MPAs qualifying to join,” she said.
Agsalin Fish Sanctuary
Agsalin Fish Sanctuary in Oriental Mindoro, on the other hand, was established through a local ordinance in 2004. Fruits of effective protection efforts since its establishment is shown by the observed recovery of corals and maintenance of live coral cover within the sanctuary. Local fishers in areas adjacent to the MPA or within its buffer zone have also observed improvements in their fish catch, demonstrating the so-called “spill-over effect” of increased protection.
“We are inspired and honored by this recognition,” said Marilyn Alcañices of the Provincial Agriculture Office of Oriental Mindoro. “We also consider our performance in this competition as a good measure of how far we have gone and of the gaps that we still need to address. We may not have made it to the top three, but we are still happy with the result since we know that we are already competitive in other aspects of MPA management and we are willing to work on our weak points,” she said.
Networking for effective management
Twin Rocks and Agsalin are both part of the Verde Island Passage MPA Network, which currently comprises nearly 70 MPAs in Batangas, Occidental Mindoro and Oriental Mindoro provinces. These MPAs represent more than 17,000 hectares of critical habitats in the Verde Island Passage, a recognized global center of marine biodiversity.
Since 2005, CI Philippines has been working in VIP, doing research to identify possible sites for new MPAs; assisting the coastal municipalities in establishing new MPAs, expanding or reestablishing existing ones; strengthening law enforcement; and building local capacities for effective MPA management. CI’s efforts helped increase MPAs in the VIP from just over 1,000 hectares in 2005 to more than 17,000 hectares by 2011.
“Effectively managed MPAs provide numerous benefits and they are very important in our fight against poverty, food insecurity, and climate change impacts like storm surges and sea temperature rise,” said Romeo Trono, CI Philippines Country Executive Director. “There’s still a lot of work to be done to promote MPAs and other conservation efforts in the VIP. We hope that this kind of recognition will go a long way in getting more support from communities, local officials, and even private entities.”