Dr. Alcala bats for establishment of more marine protected areas

Marine protected areas (MPAs) could not only give fishers increased catch, but could also be an ecotourism destination.

This is the gist of the talk given by Dr. Angel Alcala, director of the Silliman University Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management. Dr. Alcada gave the 2008 Dean Domiciano K. Villaluz Memorial Lecture on Marine ecological research for resource management last July 8, 2008 at the Tigbauan Main Station of SEAFDEC/AQD in Iloilo, Philippines.

The MPA concept: 20-30% of the total marine reserve is designated as a "no-take-zone," which means that fishing within this area is prohibited. The remaining 70-80% area may be used for fishing using non-destructive gear, such as hook and line.

By giving fish a protected habitat, they are given more opportunities to grow into bigger sizes and breed. This in turn creates a "spillover effect," wherein fish migrate onto the non-protected area of the reserve. Dr. Alcala noted that with protection, catch could reach 15-20 tons of fish per square kilometer; compared with just 5-10 tons without protected areas.

This setup has had its share of success stories, most notably the Apo Island and Sumilon marine reserves. According to Dr. Alcala, ecotourism receipts reach about $700,000 per year. In addition, around 150,000 coastal fishers have benefited from the spillover, which resulted to increased fish catch of about 10% per year. The concept of no-take reserves has also been adopted by other countries. The Shedd Museum in Chicago has in fact showcased the Apo Island model of coral reef conservation.

The successful implementation is the result of more than 20 years of research and monitoring, community-based coastal resource management (CBCRM), and support from local government units (LGUs), national agencies and NGOs. He noted that CBCRM is a relatively slow process, but if done right, could result to sustained management. He also stated that MPAs work under the situation where LGUs are also involved in its management.

Still, a lot of catching up has to be done: only 20% of MPAs in the Philippines is functional; the rest exist mainly on paper, according to Dr. Alcala.

What are the policy/program implications? Dr. Alcala cited the need to (1) establish more MPAs to conserve biodiversity and combat climate change; (2) conduct coastal resource management training activities; (3) establish deep-water reserves; and (4) strengthen the capacity of LGUs for CRM.

Dr. Alcala closed his lecture with a quote from Edward O. Wilson, a noted writer: "at the end of the day, in a more democratic world, it will be the ethics and desires of the people, not their leaders, who give power to government and the NGOs or take it away. They will decide if there are to be more or fewer reserves, and choose whether a particular species will live or die."

Dr. Alcala was the former Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. He was the recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service in 1992.

The Dean Domiciano K. Villaluz Memorial Lecture is being held every year to honor Dean Villaluz, who was SEAFDEC/AQD's first chief from 1973-1979.

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