Editor’s note: The Blue Solutions initiative supports the exchange of successful approaches to marine and coastal conservation and development, sharing what worked where and why. Each case is authored by a practitioner and published on the Marine and Coastal Solutions portal of the PANORAMA – Solutions for a Healthy Planet web platform. MPA News is drawing from these cases.

By Rene A. Abesamis, Silliman University – Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management

Knowing how far the larvae of fish species disperse can be invaluable to designing effective networks of MPAs. But in a developing nation like the Philippines, where over 1000 community-managed MPAs have been established over the past two decades, such science is often not available, particularly at the community level. So planners have often made educated guesses when planning their MPAs, based on traditional knowledge and what science could be accessed.

To help fill this knowledge gap, researchers from Silliman University studied reef fish larval dispersal along a 90-km stretch of coastal waters in the province of Negros Oriental, Philippines. The study area included multiple MPAs. The research team partnered with four international academic organizations in the fields of genetics, larval connectivity, physical oceanography, and MPA ecological effects. In addition, the team partnered with local fishermen on the field work, deploying barrier nets to catch fish for genetic parentage analysis.

The results showed, for the first time, that many of the existing MPAs were indeed connected to each other by larval dispersal, forming a network that could enhance recovery of populations within MPAs. The results also indicated that some MPAs were likely providing larvae to fishing grounds, too, giving a boost to local fisheries.

The findings were exciting not only to the scientists but also to local MPA managers and stakeholders who had been active in coastal resource management for decades. Stakeholders felt that the results were a vindication of their efforts and sacrifices over many years to manage their MPAs. This case is an example of how applying genetic analysis to MPAs can improve understanding of larval dispersal, strengthen stakeholder confidence in existing MPA locations, and support planning of future MPAs.

For more information on this case, please visit the PANORAMA web platform.