OCTOBER 19, 2008
(MALAYA) ENVIRONMENT BY ANGEL  ALCALA (‘Of the 165 marine reserves in Bohol, only 28 (17 percent), occupying a sea area of about 436 ha, are considered functional and successfully managed…’)

Marine reserves, which are areas of the sea closed to fishing and other forms of extractive activities, are now recognized worldwide as a tool for biodiversity conservation. Our initial experience dating back to the 1970s shows marine reserves are one of the few options available to us in the Philippines to restore the degraded marine environment and the depleted marine resources. There are now reported several hundreds of marine reserves in the country. At SUAKCREM, we are putting together in a book to be published soon data and information on these reserves in the Visayas.

To discuss marine reserves, our first consideration is how to evaluate the outcomes or effects of marine reserves on marine biodiversity and fisheries. There have been earlier attempts to evaluate by classifying marine reserves into a number of categories on the basis of several criteria. In contrast, our evaluation is simpler; we consider marine reserves as either functional or not functional. The functional marine reserves are those that are fully protected from fishing, have improved marine biodiversity over time, have large biomasses of target species of fish, and are exporting adult fish to fished areas for fishers to catch. The following criteria define the functional marine reserves: (1) is protected as evidenced by the presence of guards, buoys and signs; (2) has sustained funding support by local government units; (3) has high target fish biomass (at least ca 40-50 tons/ km2) and high biodiversity; (4) has a coral/ seagrass/ mangrove cover (ca 40 percent); and (5) the catch per unit effort (CPUE) outside them is ca 1.0 kg/person/hour for hook and line.

The first two criteria are the requirements for setting up and sustaining marine reserves. The last 3 criteria are the consequences of protection and management usually after a period of 3-5 years of protection from fishing. Criteria 3 to 5 have been developed from our research findings, published and unpublished, on fully protected and functional marine reserves in the central Philippines. The 4th criterion is considered important because marine reserves to be useful to the country must show improvement in the quality of the marine environment and also because high biodiversity attracts attention from people who use the marine environment for scientific study or recreation. The 5th criterion is true only, at the present time, of two marine reserves (Sumilon and Apo Island), but it is included here to emphasize that monitoring of marine reserves should include data gathering to demonstrate adult fish spillover from marine reserves.

On Bohol (and associated small islands) there are about 165 marine reserves occupying a total sea area of ca 2,600 ha. These reserves are mostly coral reefs but may include seagrass beds and mangrove. Their individual areas range from ca one ha to ca 50+ ha, but mostly around 10-20 ha. This is understandable because the reserves are virtually all local community-managed. Only one marine reserve is included in a Protected Seascape and Landscape with an area of 1,164 ha managed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). The majority of the Bohol marine reserves are managed by local communities at the barangay and the municipality levels, with the active participation of local people’s organizations (POs), non-government organizations (NGOs), national agencies especially the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), and academic institutions.

Of the 165 marine reserves in Bohol, only 28 (17 percent), occupying a sea area of about 436 ha, are considered functional and successfully managed based on the above criteria. This low percentage indicates that much need to be done by marine reserve managers and policy-makers of Bohol. This should be a matter of concern to the people of Bohol, many of whom believe that they have the best marine reserve program in the country.

Of significance to fisheries of fully protected marine reserves lies in the build-up of large biomasses of adult fish, part of which is exported from these reserves to the fished areas. A recent study of Abesamis et al. at Apo Island Marine Reserve (ca 15 ha), which has a biomass of 150 tons/km2, can export 1.5-2.0 tons of fish yearly to the surrounding fishing areas. The fish production of Apo Island is 15-20 tons per year.

None of the 28 marine reserves on Bohol considered functional have fish biomasses approximating that at Apo Marine Reserve, with possible exception of Balicasag Marine Reserve. However, it can be hypothesized that the 436 ha of marine reserves do export adult fish outside them that enhance the catches of fishers. But the volume of this fish export is not known. This is the reason why research is needed to determine the spillover effects of marine reserves of Bohol Island in order to fully appreciate the impact of marine reserves on the socioeconomic life of the people.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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