MPA implementation

We generated 35 MPAs in the central Philippines, starting with just one small reserve.

We fostered the first MPA in 1995 in Handumon, a very poor fishing village that embraced the idea heartily and was very pleased with the results. Other villages were inspired by Handumon’s success, and asked for support in establishing MPAs. The tally grew to 35 MPAs all over the region, each the product of its own circumstances.

(and counting)

Number of MPAs we have established with local communities in the Philippines


Size, in hectares, of Sinandigan MPA, the largest reserve we’ve helped establish

Community selected

As a village expressed interest in MPAs, we confirmed commitment from the elected village council, the people’s organizations and any other civil groups. Together, we facilitated creation of an MPA management council. We also embarked on participatory mapping, drawing on local knowledge to identify possible locations. We further collaborated on biological assessments and community consultations to plan the MPA.

One secret of our success in fostering MPAs in the Philippines lay in the ad hoc selection approach.

Villagers chose the location and design of the MPA based on local experience, need and opportunity. This approach differs from the systematic planning that is more commonly used when scientists alone lead the process. It also proves to be highly effective for conservation.

Management plans

Each MPA had a management plan, created by a MPA management council. The process of developing these plans helped to reveal diversity in expectations and agree priorities. As an outcome of such processes, most MPAs we catalysed on Danajon Bank are reserves, where no fishing is allowed, while some have adjacent buffers for local fishing only. A few of the MPAs have zones for different uses, such as ecologically sound seaweed farming.

From community science to MPA

One of the MPAs we supported in the Philippines arose directly from our global community science venture. Seahorse sightings reported in our iSeahorse database led us to identify a seahorse “hot spot.” This prompted the proposal for an MPA to protect those seahorses, an idea that the community of Anda (also in Bohol) eagerly advanced.

Beyond the Philippines

We have contributed to MPA development in mainland China, which has placed a big emphasis on such management tools in recent years. We introduced information to influence MPA planning so that it would better support seahorses and seahorse habitats. We have also been helping a group of fishers near Qingdao to plan an MPA in an area where trawling catches many seahorses. They are keen but the formal process of gazetting the MPA is proceeding very slowly.

[Updated 10 June 2021]

[Updated 12 June 2021]