Policy Framework and Research Initiatives for Sustaining Coral

Reef Ecosystems in the Philippines


Ester C. Zaragoza, Rudolf Hermes, and Alejandro B. Olandez jr.


Philippine Council for Aquatic and

Marine Research and Development (PCAMRD),

BPI Economic Garden, Los Banos, Laguna 4030, Philippines




Coastal fisheries production in the Philippines has declined over the recent 10 year period to less than 900 000 t annually. Catches are composed mainly of small pelagic fish, soft bottom demersal fish and reef-associated fish. The proportion of the latter shows an increasing trend, and - coupled with still continuing habitat degradation - clear and alarming signs that reef fish production is not sustainable and in need of improved management.

The legal framework for coastal fisheries management and coral reef conservation is provided, among others, through the Fisheries Code of 1998 and the Local Government Code of 1991, transferring the responsibility and right to manage coastal resources to Local Government Units or coastal municipalities, and to establish Municipal Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Councils (MFARMCs). This legislation further improved the legal basis and encouragement for community and NGO participation in coastal resources management (CRM).

CRM is the typical policy option and approach for coral reef conservation at the municipality level. It consists of community organising, public education (IEC), enforcement training, resource and habitat rehabilitation measures (mainly through marine protected areas or MPAs), and income diversification. Watershed management and pollution control measures are sometimes also included for a more comprehensive integrated coastal management (ICM). Stakeholders and participants in this process are, aside from peoples' organisations, NGOs and MFARMCs, also various National Government Agencies, the fisheries industry and the academe. Information on government programmes - some of these supported by foreign institutions - with the aim to promote sustainable use of reef resources, their scope and present status is presented; differences in approaches and emphasis, reaching from habitat protection, surveillance and effort reduction, to training, awareness raising and institutional strengthening, are discussed.

Several issues affecting reef fisheries are considered most critical: the live fish trade both for food and aquarium fish export known to involve the use of cyanide, the destructive drive-in net fishing in reef areas, further siltation and pollution, and natural phenomena such as the coral bleaching event following the recent (1997/8) El Nino. Enhancing community participation and ownership of resources, data, and management schemes is considered crucial to promote sustainability of coral reef conservation measures.

Research Initiatives on coral reef ecosystems involve a number of universities and focus mainly on developing improved assessment as well as impact monitoring and evaluation methods, and physiological studies with the aim to propagate corals and establish coral farming for habitat enhancement. The academe is also tasked to provide technical backstopping to municipalities in MPA establishment and management, mainly in assessment and training. Percentage coral cover is considered the most important indicator for assessing impact of conservation measures.

Studies are underway to document the learnings from more than 20 years experience with community-based MPAs. Geographical scope of currently undertaken research, monitoring and management activities on reef areas ranges from the South China Sea (Spratly or Kalayaan Island Group) to the Sulu and Celebes Seas (applying the "large marine ecosystem" approach) and to the Eastern Pacific Seaboard (Philippine Sea). Decisions for research funding take into account to what extent the proposed research is demand-driven and promote approaches incorporating "participatory research" and timely feedback of results to resource users.