The protection to marine environments as a measure to safeguard biodiversity is important to all regions with this kind of ecosystems, and an essential priority for others such as the Province of Palawan, in the Philippines; who shared their experiences and lessons learned during the last learning session of the Regions for Biodiversity Learning Platform that focused on the relevance of Marine Protected Areas towards the achievement of Aichi Biodiversity Target 11.
The archipelagic islands of Palawan lie between the West Philippine Sea and the Sulu Sea and it is known to be the countries’ last ecological frontier. Due to its unique ecosystems and culture, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared it to be a Man and Biosphere Reserve.
The region has 42,500 hectares of mangrove forest that are home to 90% of the known mangrove species in the country. Additionally, it has 13 out of the 16 sea grasses that can be found in the Philippines, which is one of the reasons why the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) implemented a successful environmental and social marketing strategy to promote sustainable fisheries at the Caramay Marine Protected Areas (MPA) located in the area of Roxas.
The Roxas Pride Campaign was implemented in partnership with the local government and an international NGO, Rare, with the aim of involving local fisheries in the protection of the Caramay MPA. Despite its status, threats have been posing damage to the resources, such as intrusion into the MPA core zone and illegal and destructive fishing within and around the area.
According to an assessment made by the PCSD before implementing the project, the local community hadn’t internalized the benefits of having a protection status in the region and lacked knowledge on how to preserve the habitats of the green groupers (Epinephelus coioides), the endangered dugong (Dugong dugon) and the spiny lobster (Palinurus homarus) that live in the area. With that in mind, the PCSD used these three species as the icons of the campaign and promoted sustainable fishing techniques to safeguard the corals, seagrass and mangrove areas within the protected area.
The Roxas Pride Campaign also contributed to empowering the MPA Management Committee and helped achieved an increase in the MPA Management Effectiveness Assessment Tool (MEAT) from a 38 score in 2012 to a MPA level 2 and MEAT score of 60 in 2014. The coral cover and fish biomass have also significantly increased from 2012 to date and are currently working to support the creation of a network of MPA in 13 other MPAs in the region, that would help provide much needed resilience against a range of threats to biodiversity in Palawan.
In Palawan, involving local communities in the protection of biodiversity was key to mitigate human impacts, restore species diversity and ecosystem function and continues to provide an insurance policy against a broad scale of climate impacts.