April 18, 2023
Header image: Pangatalan Island © Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation
The Philippines is part of the Coral Triangle and is located in the western Pacific Ocean. It is an area of exceptional importance and is recognised as the global center for marine biodiversity. It is home to more than 1,700 reef fish species, five of the world’s seven marine turtle species and a staggering number of reef building coral species (460+). Due to the richness of marine biodiversity found here, conservationists have advocated for its increased protection.
Mission Blue has designated two Hope Spots in the Philippines, one of which is Pangatalan Island. This small island is located north-east of Palawan and covers an area of 4.5 hectares. In 2011, driven by their love of the ocean, French business developer Fréd Tardieu and his wife purchased the island and founded the Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to conserve, protect and restore the natural resources of Palawan.
Fréd Tardieu, Co-Founder & President, Sulubaiï Environmental Foundation and Hope Spot Champion, says, “If the marine biodiversity and resources collapse all around the world, the Hope Spot may be the last place where it would be preserved”.
The island was in a poor condition with both the land and surrounding coral reefs having been severely degraded. The Foundation quickly got to work and in collaboration with local community members set about revegetating the area, by planting 80,000 indigenous species including 12,000 mangrove propagules. The restoration mission continued in the surrounding waters as dynamite fishing had destroyed many of the reef structures. In 2015, the Foundation embarked on the Sulu-Reef-Prosthesis reef restoration project and have installed 250 artificial reefs and transplanted 2,500 corals.
In 2017, they established a 45-hectare marine protected area (MPA) surrounding Pangatalan Island which is supported by the local population and is accredited under Philippines governance. After five years of protection, monitoring has shown that fish species found within the MPA are larger (+21% on average), more abundant (+71%) and the assemblage more diverse than those recorded outside the protected area. Fish biomass in the bay has also tripled.
In 2021, the Foundation scaled up its efforts for the sustainable management of marine resources in the area and established the ‘Sea Academy’ in collaboration with local conservation partners and community members. The program was established with the aim of creating a network of local community-managed MPAs, undertaking research on the effects of the protected areas on local biodiversity, active restoration of coral and fish populations and environmental education and outreach activities. A huge component of the Foundation’s values is working towards equipping the local communities with the skills and knowledge needed for them to independently manage and maintain their amazing ecosystems in a sustainable manner. Many studies have shown that the success of conservation initiatives relies heavily on the involvement and support of the local communities.
Laure de Ville d’Avray, SEA ACADEMY Project Manager explains, “In the coastal areas where people depend on their local marine resources, small community-based marine protected areas are the best tool to change the local practices towards a sustainable management of marine resources.”
The past year has been an exciting one for the Foundation as they continue to make progress on their sustainable development and ecosystem restoration projects. Their biggest win over the last year has been the official establishment of a network of three community-led MPAs. Along with the Pangatalan MPA, the protected area now covers 760 hectares, of which 200 hectares have been designated as fully no-take. Local fisherman, MPA rangers and government agents have been receiving dive training to aid with the management and monitoring of the MPAs. Local fisherfolk associations have also been receiving training on setting up community banking schemes and exploring alternative livelihoods. Time has also been spent conducting outreach programs with the local teachers and students with over 600 students reached so far. Plans were also approved for the construction of a new Environmental Education & Restoration Centre which will serve the surrounding communities.
Laure de Ville d’Avray describes, “In the communities, the local ‘champions’ such as an active fisher or a woman with leadership are as important as the local authorities in order to move forward the community decisions, and it is especially true regarding the common resources from the sea.”
The foundation also embarked on a fish restocking project with partners Ecocean. The project aims to release 40,000 juvenile fish per year into the MPAs using the Post-larvae Capture-Culture-Release method developed by Ecocean. Post-larvae are captured from the wild, then raised in captivity until they reach a more mature size which increases their survival rate upon release. The technique increases post-larvae survival by 85% and should go a long way to boosting population numbers in the wild.
The Foundation endeavors to continue to work for and with the local communities to help protect and conserve their incredible biodiversity. If you’d like to dive a little deeper into the inspiring work going on at the Pangatalan Hope Spot then take a look at the Foundation’s website. Watch the below video for a summary of the project and their commitment to the local schools and communities.