A 3,468-hectare marine protected area (MPA) whose creation was initiated by the Tagbanua indigenous community in Barangay Bulalacao, Coron has been recognized by the provincial government as the “Best Community-Managed MPA” in Palawan.
Non-government organization (NGO) Malampaya Foundation, Inc. (MFI), which assisted the community in the MPA’s creation and management, attributes the award to the community’s perseverance to manage the protected area.
The Bulalacao MPA received the recognition at the PEARL (Palawan MPAs Empowered through Awards and Recognition to Enrich Marine Life) Awards on December 10, according to an official announcement by the MFI.
Pacifico Beldia, MFI’s marine biodiversity conservation manager, said in an interview Monday that due to travel restrictions, the community’s plaque of appreciation will be handed to the community via the foundation.
Beldia added that the Tagbanua peoples of Bulalacao first sought MFI’s assistance in 2012, stating that they wished to stop illegal fishing and replenish local fish populations through the creation of an MPA.
“Nag-request ‘yong IP community ng Bulalacao noong 2012 to set up an MPA. From late 2012 to late 2013, MFI did a series of consultations with the tribal leader, as well as with the NCIP (National Commission for Indigenous Peoples) and the DENR (Department for Environment and Natural Resources). It was a lengthy process, and the IP community even went around the area in their boats to establish boundaries for the MPA,” he said.
The MPA was created in 2014, along with a renewable three-year conservation agreement between the community and the MFI cemented the terms of the MPA management.
Beldia stated that the benefits of community-led management have been showing, and the local community has been strictly enforcing their own patrols in the area to prevent illegal fishing.
“Nakita talaga namin, wala nang illegal fishing within the vicinity, at may enforcement talaga led by the local community. May few hurdles pa rin, pero basta’t nasusunod ang kagustuhan ng community, maayos ang management,” he said.
He added that the foundation believes that the winning factor for the MPA is because the indigenous leaders persevered to protect and manage the area.
“’Yan talaga siguro ang naging basehan bakit may award. Perseverance talaga ‘yon ng local community,” he said.
Aside from the Bulalacao MPA, the MFI also helps manage other MPAs in Palawan, particularly in Coron, Linapacan, El Nido, and Taytay. The foundation provides resources capacity-building for Bantay Dagat rangers, reef monitoring, and even leads to giant clam (taklobo) restoration project.
Called the String-of-Pearls Project, the endeavor is a part of a long-term partnership with the Western Philippines University that aims to restore the local population of the “true” Tridacna gigas species previously believed to be extinct in the Philippines.