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Communities considered key in protecting MPAs

Sommer J. Buyante | News Editor & Merell Lystra L. Recta | Feature Writer

Based on the success stories of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the country, communities could be the key in sustaining MPAs, said Dr. Rene Abesamis, a marine biologist at the SU Angelo King Center for Research in Environmental Management, during the screening of a documentary film about marine sanctuaries, at Silliman November 16.

The documentary, “Grid Exploration II,” follows the success story of National Scientist Dr. Angel Alcala and his team in establishing MPAs in the country.

The film and the stunning design of its print counterpart in GRID Magazine is a collaboration of Dr. Abesamis; famous photographer and videographer Francisco Guerrero, executive editor of GRID Magazine; economist and dive master Rene Juntereal; filmmaker Carmen del Prado; and free diver and conservationist Tara Abrina.

It is a case of powerful multimedia storytelling meeting serious science to spread the word about the success of MPA as a social and scientific concept for marine protection and conservation.

An MPA is a zone where taking of fishes and other marine resources is prohibited. MPAs serve as a sanctuary and breeding ground for fish and other forms of marine life, causing fish to breed, grow and multiply into adjacent areas, supplying a sustainable catch for fishermen and locals.

According to the film, Alcala established the first MPA in Sumilon Island in Oslob, Cebu, wherein no human community lives. It was protected for almost ten years but it went down due to the absence of a community and lack of political support.

“If you want to sustain marine protection in this country, you need the support of a local community,” said Dr. Abesamis, who has published scientific papers laying out the evidence for the effectiveness of MPAs.

After Sumilon, Alcala and his team established another MPA in Apo Island, working for two years before convincing the residents to take part in the effort. Alcala and his team discovered the necessity of communities co-existing with MPAs.

Since 1985, Apo Island Marine Reserve has been managed by the community, and through long years of longitudinal research studies has produced data showing the productivity of marine protected areas.

The story of Apo’s success spread far and wide, making it a showcase for MPAs not only in the country but also in the Asian region as well.

There are now at least 1,500 marine protected areas nationwide, and the experiment has been replicated in neighboring countries in Asia.

Tourism as threat
When tourism in Apo started to boom in 2000s, Alcala warned that it will have a negative impact.

“I have warned them already, a long time ago, that they should control the number of people there because if there are too many people stepping and destroying corals, the fishes will not be happy about it. Because they destroy their habitats and destroy their source of food,” he said.

Tara Abrina, an economist and free diver volunteer at the Marine Sciences Institute at UP Diliman, reminded tourists to be careful with the corals and to keep in mind that they are mere visitors. She teaches free diving to locals to help them monitor their MPAs and encourages fishermen to engage in sustainable fishing practices.

Breeding new ocean warriors
Mario Pascobello, former Apo Is. barangay captain, said he has been a fisherman in Apo all his life. He now owns a diving lodge on the island, and continues to advocate for marine protection. He said it is important to develop among children the love for the sea and the environment, saying that they are the future generation that will inherit the benefits of protection and conservation.

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