First data results since the pandemic

 In Dauin, Siaton, Zamboanguita

Along with the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic was a severe disruption for MCP, and our activities were suspended  from March 2020 until February 2022. We tried to use the down time to improve and refine our operations for when we could resume, and we’ve expanded our monitoring horizons to include additional survey sites. Excitingly, new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have also been established. This is wonderful, encouraging news for our mission to help ensure food security for local communities. 

We’re very happy to share that we’ve just finished our first complete survey season, which ran from June to September. A massive shout out and thank you to all the volunteers who helped to make it happen, we couldn’t have done it without you! The data is available on our data portal, and reports for the Municipalities of both Siaton and Zamboanguita are available as articles on our website already.

Over those busy three months, we monitored 13 sites and conducted over 500 surveys, cataloguing coral and substrate cover, fish biomass and invertebrate numbers. We also continued tracking threats to the reef such as marine debris (here’s looking at you, plastic) and Crown of Thorns sea stars, which if left unchecked can have devastating effects on coral reefs. 

All of the data is being shared with local and regional government teams, to empower them to make informed decisions that ensure local reefs, and the incredible diversity of life they support, are given the protection they need to flourish and thrive. In turn, this means that the many communities that have relied on them for food and livelihoods over generations have  sustainable means to support themselves into the future.

As if all that wasn’t enough, we’ve also assisted masters students from Siliman University (one of the best in the Philippines for marine biology) with their research into local fisheries, led beach and dive clean ups all along the coast, built local community capacity by training members of the government’s environmental department to dive, and assisted with the repair and maintenance of the buoys that mark the boundaries of Marine Protected Areas.

Unfortunately, reefs both here in the Philippines and around the world are under pressure from a  variety of threats, almost all entirely down to unsustainable human activities. These include ocean warming and acidification due to ever increasing carbon emissions, over fishing (often illegal), excess nutrients from agricultural run off and pollution entering the ocean, and poorly managed coastal development. 

In the three regional municipalities we monitor (Dauin, Zamboanguita and Siaton), we’ve recorded a general downward trend in the amount of fish biomass observed in both MPAs and non-MPAs. Studies indicate that a minimum fish biomass of 1,195 – 1,900 kg per hectare, or 18 – 25 kg per 150m2 (the unit area size of surveys at MCP) are necessary to maintain sustainable reef fish populations and support critical ecosystem services. 

The recorded fish biomass for each region are as follows:

  • Dauin – 32 kg per 150m2
  • Siaton – 13.2 kg per 150m2
  • Zamboanguita – 12.7 kg per 150m2

This gives a regional average of 16.2 kg per 150m2, unfortunately somewhat below the target of 18 – 25 kg per 150m2. The most likely reason for this is due to pressure from over fishing, though external disturbances are also possible. 

However, it’s not all bad news. The municipality of Dauin enjoys a well earned reputation as a world class diving spot, largely due to its wonderful abundance of benthic cryptofauna small, weird and otherwise fantastic. As such, it benefits from established, well funded and enforced MPAs, which is reflected in the high fish biomass observed there. 

Similarly, the site of Basak Can-Unsang MPA in the municipality of Zamboanguita is well known to support high fish biomass (averaging 29 kg per 150m2 since 2019), a beacon of productivity in a municipality that averages 12.7 kg per 150om2. Like Dauin, it also benefits from a high level of  maintenance, enforcement and community backing. These two examples in particular highlight the effectiveness of well managed MPA, and there’s no reason to doubt this can’t be replicated elsewhere, especially if the financial benefits of thoughtful tourism can be harnessed (with this in mind, we’ve also expanded our monitoring program to include fascinating critters that might entice divers to these lovely waters). It should also be noted that despite the majority of MPAs falling short of suggested targets, they are still supporting higher fish biomass than non-MPAs, illustrating their value as a tool for ensuring food security, provided they are managed effectively.

Key to all of this, is the engagement and support of the local stakeholders we work with. One of the fundamental tenets of Marine Conservation Philippines is to serve the community, and it is only by doing so that we can meet our conservation goals. In a world of massive, human made problems, this highlights the power of small scale, human made solutions. We can’t do what we do without passionate volunteers who learn scientific diving and help drive our marine monitoring.  Very big thanks and appreciation to everyone who’s come and helped us get off the ground in 2022.

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