DAVAO CITY — Small-scale fishermen, whose livelihoods depend mainly on municipal waters, require expanded fishing territory due to the continued degradation of the marine habitat, according to Vincent V. Hilomen, project manager of SMARTSeas PH.
SMARTSeas PH — Strengthening Marine Protected Areas to Conserve Marine Key Biodiversity Areas in the Philippines — aims to help arrest the degradation through better management at the local level among officials and people’s organizations, ensuring financial sustainability, and establishing enabling policies.
In an interview, Mr. Hilomen said based on studies assessing Philippine coral reefs, only 5% of the country’s marine resources are in “excellent condition.”
“What this tells us is simple. We have not arrested the factors that degrade our reefs. This explains why our municipal fishers have to roam larger areas in search of fish compared with a decade or so before,” he said.
“Our problems with our marine resources have been there a long time, and considering that the Philippines is an archipelago, the second-largest worldwide, the degraded portion is really large,” he added, speaking in English and Filipino.
Mr. Hilomen cited the estimate of National Scientist Angel C. Alcala, a marine science expert, that when reefs are in excellent condition, fisherfolk can yield as high as 20 metric tons of fishery products per square kilometer per year.
“Now imagine if all three million hectares of reefs yield this much,” he said.
The SMARTSeas PH Project will be piloted in the Verde Island Passage; Palawan South; Cebu Canyon Strait; Davao Gulf; Lanuza Bay; and the Tañon Strait.
“There is uniqueness in each area. The Verde Island Passage (between Mindoro and Batangas) was chosen as the center of biodiversity; Palawan was chosen as an area that has a lot of mangroves; Lanuza (in Surigao del Sur) is popular for its ridge to reef; Davao Gulf ‘s governance is a perfect example for all the Philippines.
In addition, the organization is looking at the Tañon Strait between the islands of Negros and Cebu as the only NIPAS (National Integrated Protected Areas System) site, Mr. Hilomen said.
A three-day conference, “Partners’ Forum: People and the Sea” held recently in Davao City, was attended by more than 400 national and local officials and marine conservation leaders for an exchange on lessons and strategies at the sites.
“The main goal of this is for us to have management bodies that are competent,” Mr. Hilomen said.
SMARTSeas PH is led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Biodiversity Management Bureau, and supported by the United Nations Development Programme and Global Environment Facility.
The forum was co-organized by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) under the Department of Agriculture. — Maya M. Padillo