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500 Marine Protected Areas Established in Philippines

PHILIPPINES - The Philippines government has developed 500 marine-protected areas (MPAs) through local government initiatives as a key contribution to better coastal resource management and global efforts to save the worlds marine resources.

Speaking before a recent international gathering of leaders and environmental protection advocates in Washington DC, Secretary Arthur Yap of the Department of Agriculture, said the Arroyo administration also continues to develop programs on good governance in the areas of fisheries resource management, coastal resource management, sustainable fisheries and assistance to coastal municipalities along the South China Sea.

The government has managed to do this, he said, through financing partnerships with the Asian Development Bank, the Spanish government, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Global Environment Facility and the UN Environment Program.

The Worldwide Fund for Conservation, the Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy have also been active partners of the Philippines in helping preserve its marine resources, Mr Yap said.

He told participants at the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) Stakeholders Luncheon, which was held in the US capital during President Arroyo’s working visit to the United States, that "the Philippines’ locally managed MPAs provide small fisherfolk with sustainable means of livelihood, as these areas provide a spill-over effect and replenish municipal waters where local communities can fish."

The CTI is a worldwide grouping of leaders and movers advocating the preservation of the Coral Triangle, a 5.7 million square kilometer area in the Indo-Pacific Ocean that contains 67% of the world’s marine resources and spans the waters of the Philippines and five other countries—Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste.

"To date, over 500 MPAs all over the Philippines have been established through local community initiatives and the entire Philippine coastline—that is from the coast up to 15 kilometers from shore—are locally managed marine areas exclusively for artisanal (small-scale commercial) fishing activity," Mr Yap said.

He noted that the Philippines has been globally recognized as having contributed in the evolution and development of coastal resource management, with its Tubbataha Reef—the only United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) world heritage site in Southeast Asian seas—as well as other MPAs serving as virtual laboratories where various concepts and ideas to conserve and develop marine resources are tried, analyzed, modified and eventually carried out.

Mr Yap said, however, that despite the strides made by the Philippines in terms of conservation of marine resources through these MPAs, it is still crucial that such micro-dots of bio-diversity be linked into ecologically connected networks "to have a measureable sustainable impact on the coral reef ecosystem as well as on fish biomass, the major source of protein for close to 40 million of our people."

"Left alone as local initiatives, lacking an ecologically linked network, the MPAs will have little macro impact," he said.

It is for this reason that the Philippines values the efforts of the prime movers within the Coral Triangle Initiative in establishing ecologically linked multiple-use protected areas, he said.

He said these areas should be sustainable, functionally dynamic and protected for tourism, research, regeneration, livelihood and poverty eradication.

To date, CTI countries are actively taking part in a number of bilateral and trilateral collaborations that advance the idea of responsible growth, he said.