MPA, banca and guardhouse in Philippines. Photo by Project Seahorse

Sustaining MPAs

The suite of MPAs we catalysed in the Philippines offers considerable hope for ocean conservation in the Danajon Bank region.

These MPAs were sought, designed, managed and enforced by villagers. Moreover, they have thus far stood the test of time, proving resilient in the face of new pressures with some even expanding in size.

It is vital that MPAs become effective safe spaces where marine populations can recover and endure. Yet an MPA is only as good as its management. MPAs that are repeatedly violated can become meaningless for biodiversity and for human well-being.

We worked with the MPAs in the Philippines to create the conditions for success.

The most important ingredient was community buy-in, which is one reason why the ad hoc approach, placing an MPA where the village wanted it, was so effective in sustaining the protection.

However, MPAs also needed a management council, clear objectives, ongoing monitoring and evaluation, good enforcement and a funding plan.

Communities value MPAs

One indication of the value communities place on the MPAs, and their increasing biological importance comes from the risks people take to protect their MPAs. Beyond setting boundaries, building guardhouses, and mounting guards, villagers often enforce the MPAs with incredible courage in the face of threats and violence.

A second indication of the value of the MPAs to the coastal communities is that they have persisted even as seaweed farming has expanded enormously. Indeed, MPAs have been the only areas not covered with lines of seaweeds in the waters of some villages. Given the ecological concerns associated with intensive seaweed farming, the value of these MPAs increases yet farther.

A third indication of enduring community support for the MPAs is that many continue to grow, covering more area and embracing more diverse habitats. The Handumon MPA, for example, was initiated in 1995 and formally gazetted in 1998. The support behind that longevity was confirmed with a move to double it in size in 2020.