Fisher folk key to marine conservation–WWF

Conserving the country’s precious marine resources begins with showing fisher folk that protecting natural habitats will redound to more money for them, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Philippines).

“Local communities are the delivery systems of conservation,” WWF-Philippines vice chair and chief executive officer Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan said at the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) Philippines Forum in Makati City on Wednesday.

He stressed the importance not only of promoting sustainable livelihood for coastline communities but of showing fisher folk that they can earn good profits through sound business practices.

“By delivering bottom-line results that not only provide livelihood but create wealth, we exert a profound influence on sustainably transforming systems and practices,” he said.

“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,” Tan said.

For instance, in the town of Araceli in Palawan, decades of overfishing once threatened the trade of live reef fish in the area.

“Overharvesting was a problem,” he said.

Fishers were catching five times more than what could be sustained. Spawning grounds for fish were targeted, severely depleting natural brood stock,” Tan said.

But when local government units and stakeholders began to support conservation efforts, the industry recovered, he said. The benefits are beginning to show, Tan said.

He cited the cases of fisher folk Federico and Nida Illut who “finally upgraded their flimsy bahay kubo (nipa hut) to a two-bedroom concrete house—the direct result of rising grouper or lapu-lapu yields.”

Palawan, home to over 40 percent of the country’s reefs and diverse fish species, generates 55 percent of all Philippine seafood, including the highly valued suno or red grouper.

Exported to Hongkong, Singapore, mainland China and other seafood hubs, the colorful fish species contributes over P1 billion to the country’s annual revenues and supports the livelihoods of 100,000 people in Palawan alone.

More than 200 environmentalists and conservationists attended the CTI Philippines Forum at the Hotel InterContinental in Makati City.

The event was organized by the CTI-Philippines National Coordinating Committee, co-chaired by the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources and Agriculture, with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The US government, through the efforts of USAID, the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, Department of State and other agencies collectively known as the USCTI Support Program, provided technical and financial assistance to six CTI governments, including the Philippines, through the Coral Triangle Support Partnership.

The five-year program is US-government-funded and implemented through Conservation International, the World Wide Fund for Nature/World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy.

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