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Seahorse sanctuary in Bohol judged the best in RP

December 09, 2007 21:52:00
TJ Burgonio
Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines--After sundown, tourists would travel by boat to Jandayan Island off Bohol and go diving to look at the luminous seahorses swimming among corals in the dark waters.

For over 10 years, the seahorses have thrived in the waters off Getafe town in Jandayan, along with fish, corals and other marine life.

The fisherfolk and officials of Barangay Handumon helped make this possible. They banded together to put up, manage and protect a marine sanctuary out in the sea since 1995 despite meager resources and little support from the national government.

The sanctuary has been adjudged the most outstanding marine protected area (MPA) in the country by the MPA Support Network (MSN), a multisectoral alliance of organizations seeking to protect the marine environment.

"To a large extent, they have shown that they were consistently managing their areas," University of the Philippines' Marine Science Institute Prof. Porfirio Aliño, MSN coordinator, said after the awards held at the Celebrity Sports Plaza in Quezon City recently.

He added: "You need to show that it has been sustained for a long time. It's quite a challenge if you think that it has been sustained for 20 years."

According to Environment Secretary Lito Atienza, the establishment of the MPAs has not been a priority because these are seen as constraints on the fisherfolk's goal of maximizing fish yields.

"The finalists were able to shift this negative perception through practical and appropriate strategies," he said in a speech read on his behalf by Dr. Mundita Lim, director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau.

The MSN sees the MPAs, like the Handumon marine sanctuary, as crucial to protecting the country's dwindling marine resources.

After decades of illegal fishing, only five percent of the country's coral reefs are in excellent condition. On the other hand, only 30 percent of the original 450,000-hectare mangrove forests remain due to logging.

For the past 30 years, over 500 MPAs have been established in the country's municipal waters, but success in managing them have been "uneven," according to the network.

Most MPAs have been hobbled by weak governance, weak law enforcement and prosecution systems, lack of funds, insufficient logistical support, conflicting interests and lack of coordination.

But still, there are some that stand out for their sustainability and good practices.

The 50-hectare Handumon marine sanctuary is part of a large barrier reef in the waters of Bohol, teeming with fish, seashells and thick mangroves, according to the MSN.

It was delineated and established in 1995, an act made official by a municipal ordinance passed three years later.

Its establishment came naturally for mostly seaweed farmers and fishers who, years earlier, set up their Kapunungan sa Nagkahiusang Mananagat ug Lumulupyo sa Handumon (Kanagmaluhan) to protect the area from poachers and illegal fishers and reverse the dwindling trend in the fish population.

The Haribon Foundation also set up a Project Seahorse Foundation in Handumon to protect its population of seahorses.

"At first, there was resistance," said Elvira Buhol, president of Kanagmaluhan and village secretary of Handumon, who traveled by ship and plane from Bohol to receive the trophy and the P100,000 cash prize.

"Little by little, we managed to convince them by telling them that eventually fish will come back, and we wouldn't need to fish in the neighboring town's waters."

Posters on sanctuary rules were produced and fish wardens were trained on environmental protection.

Haribon trained the staff to make handicraft and eventually organize seahorse watching tours for locals and foreigners to finance the management of the marine sanctuary.

At least 2 percent of the earnings from Kanagmaluhan"s handicraft industry, supplemented by barangay (village) and municipal funds, went to the maintenance of the sanctuary, according to the MSN.

Over the years, the fisherfolk and the village officials strongly enforced fishery laws and regularly undertook mangrove planting and coastal cleanups. They eventually turned the sanctuary into a marine research station.

The result: Increased fish catch.

"After five years, the fish started coming back and there was no need to fish in other fishing grounds," Buhol said.

The Sagay marine reserve in Sagay City, Negros Oriental, home to 60 genera of hard and soft corals, 107 fish species and giant clams, placed second.

The Twin Rocks fish sanctuary in Mabini, Batangas, which teems with a variety of reef fish and shellfish, placed third.

The MSN is composed of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, PAWB, Bureau of Local Governance Development, and the Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Resources and Development.

Other members include Conservation International, UP-MSI, Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation, WWF, Haribon, Pamana Ka Sa Pilipinas, Silliman University's Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management, Community-based Coastal Resource Management-Resource Center, Mindanao State University, Xavier University, Tanggol Kalikasan, Resources Environment and Economics Center for Studies Inc.

"All these show that if people are united and have a common vision and they see themselves as stewards of the areas, they can sustain these sanctuaries," Aliño said.

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