Strengthening MPA boundaries

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One of the first official happenings in which we could participate as MCP in the municipality of Zamboanguita was helping resetting the boundaries for an already existing Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Dalakit, two days before Christmas. The MPA has been in effect, but not enforced, for quite some years, as the demarkation lines disappeared after several typhoons, making it hard to tell where the no-fishing zone starts.

The coastal resource manager Antonio Yucor managed to motivate a team of enthusiastic local fisherman to help with the work. They prepared 46 concrete blocks, used for sinkers and made a nice system for attaching rope to the styrofoam buoys.

The first part of the day was already a challenge: getting the marine patrol boat into the water. With 10 strong man slowly pushing the boat inch by inch through the sand, we eventually managed to get the boat in the water. The concrete blocks of more than 100 kgs each were moved with a digger as close as possible to the water. One block was tied to the boat and dragged into the water, until it was deep enough to float. Then the rope and buoy were attached and the block was dropped at the right spot. The boat could only take one block at the time, meaning that it had to go back and forth to the coast to pick up each new block.
Unfortunately the distances underwater and the murky water proved it difficult for scuba divers to check if all the sinkers were dropped correctly, so that task still remains. We did however have the opportunity to have a look at a 20 year old artificial reef which was full of fish and also included some hard and soft coral.

The strong points of this MPA is not so much the coral reef, because it actually hardly exists here, but the extended seagrass beds, the nearby river mouth and adjacent mangroves. There are a lot of young fish to be found here, which now get a chance to grow up relatively undisturbed. Most young fish spent part of their life hidden away under the mangroves or in or near river mouths were there are relatively few predators. But most important, the local people of this neighborhood thought it was really important to start this MPA, and have paid the expenses out of their own barangay (neighborhood) budget and are willing to help for free with the implementation and enforcement.

Of course there is always way for improvement. The styrofoam buoys will deteriorate in not too many months and will need to be replaced constantly, which of course means the residue will disappear in the sea. The blocks were dragged through the seagrass beds, instead of lifted over it because the digger could not drive in the water. On the other hand, with a very limited budget, it is still possible to work actively on marine conservation, and we as MCP now have a role in helping develop a less destructive way to set up marker buoys and see if we can increase the budget, so that we can for instance use buoys of hard plastic that last several years and will not break so easily.

After a hard day of work about 15 sinkers with buoys were dropped, so work continued throughout the next day. The final result is an MPA of around 500 m in length and 300 m wide. The patrolling will be done by the locals themselves. We will be monitoring the site regularly to see if any changes occur. It is really nice to see that local people can get so enthusiastic in conserving their own environment, and some nice pictures of the occasion appeared on our facebook wall as well.

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