???????????????????????????????According to a 2009 WWF report, coral reefs may disappear from the Coral Triangle by the end of the century and the ability of the region’s coastal environments to feed people might decline by 80% if no effective conservation measures are implemented. That is something to worry about.

But first, what is the Coral Triangle? The Coral Triangle is scientifically defined as the marine region encompassing the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and the Solomon Islands. “Though it covers just 1% of the Earth’s surface, the region hosts 30% of the world’s coral reefs, 76% of its reef-building coral species, plus vital spawning grounds for fish, birds and sea turtles,” Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje explains.

To address the gloomy future trend of coral reefs, the Coral Triangle Support Partnership  (CTSP) was created. Through the CTSP, the US government, with the coordinated efforts of USAID, the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, Department of State and other agencies collectively known as the USCTI Support Program provides technical and financial assistance to the six CTI country governments.  Great, so there are funds coming in to preserve this critical food source.

CTSP promotes community participation in the protection and management of their marine and coastal resources, as well as private sector involvement to ensure long-term and sustainable use. This supports the shared vision of the Philippines and the United States to achieve broad-based and inclusive growth for Filipinos,” US Embassy Manila’s USAID Mission Director for the Philippines Gloria Steele says.  The five-year CTSP is US government funded and implemented through Conservation International (CI), the World Wide Fund for Nature / World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).  Community participation and Private sector involvement  for the long-term and sustainable use  is key to the solution.

An update on the progress of this effort is reported during the forum. Fortunately, the Philippines has  good news to share.  The Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) Philippines Forum, held at the Hotel InterContinental in Makati City on 14 August, highlighted the contributions of various partners in achieving the goals of the CTI-Philippines National Plan of Action.  Organized by the CTI-Philippines National Coordinating Committee (NCC), co-chaired by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the event was attended by more than 200 representatives from the public and private sectors, including local government leaders and community groups in CTSP sites Palawan, Tawi-Tawi and the Verde Island Passage in Batangas.

“Local communities are the delivery systems of conservation. By delivering bottom-line results that not only provide livelihood, but create wealth, we exert a profound influence on sustainably transforming systems and practices. Going beyond science, beyond policy, beyond plans and pilots, our collective goal should be to give our stakeholders and allies a future where they can reap strong, sustainable benefits. In a climate defined future, this is conservation at work,” says World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Philippines) Vice-chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan,

Plectropomus leopardus (WWF)Protecting Palawan’s Marine Resources

Federico and Nida Illut, fisherfolk from the municipality of Araceli in Palawan, finally upgraded their flimsy bahay kubo to a two-bedroom concrete house – the direct result of rising grouper or lapu-lapu yields.

Palawan, which is home to over 40 % of the country’s reefs and diverse fish species, generates 55% of all Philippine seafood including the highly valued suno or red grouper. Exported to Hongkong, Singapore, mainland China and other seafood hubs, this colorful fish species contributes over Php1 Billion to the country’s annual revenues and s

upports the livelihoods of 100,000 people in Palawan alone.

Decades of unsustainable fishing practices once threatened to destroy the Live Reef Fish Trade (LRFT) in the area. “Overharvesting was a problem.  Fishers were catching five times more than what could be sustained. Spawning grounds for fishes were targeted, severely depleting natural brood-stock. Fortunately, local government units and stakeholders started to support conservation efforts – and it is paying off,” explains WWF-Philippines CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan.

In 2011, WWF and its allies commissioned science-based studies to guide Palawan fisheries officers on how to identify, establish and manage Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). A concept pioneered by Filipino scientists in 1974, MPAs are areas of marine habitats which enjoy varying levels of protection – from no-take to limited-use classifications. Over a thousand MPAs are now spread across the archipelago.

Two years after declaring new MPAs and protecting fish spawning areas, fisherfolk in the area are reporting good news.  “We can already see improvements in fish yields and coral cover within and outside the protected zones,” testifies Taytay Municipal Administrator Robinson Morales.  “Things have steadily improved since we established the MPAs.”

Mangrove Reforestation in Batangas Fights Climate Change

The entire west coast of Calatagan in Batangas is exposed to waves from the West Philippine Sea.  The area is highly vulnerable to storm surge effects, coastal erosion and flooding – further aggravated by the impacts of climate change. A one-meter rise in sea level will flood about 4700 hectares of coastal plain.

Balibago Mangroves by Conservation InternationalAs an adaptation strategy, coastal villages in Calatagan have ventured into mangrove (bakawan) reforestation and protection – with community members understanding the critical function of these forests as buffers against climate hazards.

An alliance of fishing families in the village of Balibago established a mangrove nursery for 10,000 seedlings in a 10-hectare mangrove conservation area with the aid of the Coral Triangle Support Partnership (CTSP) through Conservation International and strong support from the local government. Apart from supplying mangrove seedlings to nearby towns to widen the mangrove belt in Calatagan, the nursery also became an added source of income for families in the area.  Residents now sell 5000 mangroves saplings yearly and earn additional income from waste recycling while patrolling or harvesting shellfish.

In the nearby village of Quilitisan, a mangrove island known as Ang Pulo (The Island) was developed as an ecotourism site for camping, birdwatching and picnics on rafts.  The site is now fully-managed by a community of fishers, farmers and women.

“Through their mangrove rehabilitation efforts, the people of Calatagan are taking action to address the impacts of climate change in their communities while simultaneously reaping the benefits of ecotourism, ultimately securing a bright future of their families,” says Conservation International-Philippines Country Executive Director Enrique A. Nuñez Jr.

With the success of these initiatives, Calatagan is considered a model site for coastal resource management and is being replicated in other provinces in the Philippines.  The village of Balibago was recently chosen as the site for the 2nd Coral Triangle Day last 9 June by the Philippine Coral Triangle Initiative National Coordinating Committee (NCC) with over 300 participants from Manila and Batangas joining mangrove planting and coastal clean-up activities.

“We are highly aware of the benefits that coral reefs contribute to the country’s food security and we are taking keen measures to ensure our reefs’ sustainability,” assures DA Secretary Proceso Alcala. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) of the Department of Agriculture (DA) in the Philippines, conducts various fisheries resource conservation and protection programs in support of the CTI as well.