Apo Island in the central Philippines has become nearly synonymous with the promise that MPAs seem to hold for improved fisheries management. Since the declaration in 1985 of a community-run, no-take marine sanctuary on a portion of the small island’s coral reef, researchers have documented increased fish abundance inside and outside of the sanctuary’s boundaries.

Remarkable for its fisheries-management success, Apo is in the news again, but this time for the makeover of its management system. An example since its inception of how community-based management could effectively protect marine resources, the marine sanctuary’s management is now in the process of being turned over to a board with national, as well as local, government representatives. While local citizens will still have a say in the marine sanctuary’s management, federal officials will play an increasingly important role.

Different Management Style

The success of Apo’s fish protection has been well-documented, particularly in studies by Garry Russ of James Cook University (Queensland, Australia) and Angel Alcala of the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Apo’s value as a successful MPA was a factor in the Filipino government’s proclamation of the island in 1994 as a nationally recognized “protected seascape”.

One effect of the proclamation was that it placed Apo Island within the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS). The Philippines’ NIPAS Act mandates the establishment of a board of stakeholders for each protected seascape to decide matters related to planning, peripheral protection, and general administration. In 1996, an interim eight-member Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) for Apo was created, including spots for three Apo Islanders. There is just one seat on the board for a federal representative (from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources), although the federal government reserves the final say on management decisions. The board’s other four members are provincial, regional and academic representatives.

Already, the PAMB has demonstrated a different management style from the previous, community-run system. The board has drafted a resolution that would hand down fines of up to 500,000 pesos (roughly US $10,000) or imprisonment of up to six years for any of several prohibited acts in the sanctuary, including disturbing wildlife and littering. Formerly, the community-run system relied more on strong local support of the marine sanctuary to impart preemptive peer pressure on anyone inclined to violate the MPA.

Different Management for Different Time?

The PAMB’s stronger enforcement regime, which could include federal policing of the sanctuary, comes as Apo’s status as a tourist destination is growing. According to Roy de Leon, an assistant professor at Silliman University, the region around Apo has experienced the development of several tourist resorts in the last few years, attracted in part by snorkeling opportunities in the sanctuary.

While the increase in tourism has brought increased revenue to the island, tourists have caused some harm to the reef through trampling of corals or even graffiti. More development appears to be coming, as some locals have continued to sell their property to developers. So far, though, fish abundance at the sanctuary continues to be high; in fact, last year’s count was higher than at any point in the past, according to Alan White of the USAID-supported Coastal Resources Management Project in Cebu.

The change in management from a “bottom-up” regime to a collaborative system between locals and the federal government has unsettled residents who had become used to managing their own environment. De Leon and White report that residents have expressed concern that the federal government might not always consider the ecosystem’s health, and that officials might allow the development of mega-resorts nearby that could over-run the sanctuary’s reef. De Leon wonders what effect the management change will have on community involvement and support for the sanctuary, which has traditionally been the sanctuary’s keystone.

“The big question is whether [the change] will make the community more active, or less active, in the sanctuary,” he said.

For more information:

Roy Olson de Leon, COECRM office, Silliman University, Marine Lab Compound, Bantayan, Dumaguete City, 6200 Philippines. Tel: +63 35 225 6711; E-mail: admsucrm@mozcom.com.

Alan White, Coastal Resources Management Project, 5th Floor, CIFC Towers, North Reclamation Area, Cebu, Philippines. Tel: +63 32 232 1821; Fax: +62 32 232 1825; E-mail: awhite@mozcom.com.

Coming up in MPA News…

What exactly is a “marine protected area”? For that matter, what is a “marine sanctuary”, “marine reserve”, “marine life reserve”, or “ecological reserve”? We’ll examine the growing thicket of MPA nomenclature and search for trends…. Plus, stay tuned for a report on capacity-building in MPA management, and more news and analysis from around the world.