Dr. Billy Tusker Haworth, Post-doctorate Research Fellow of University of Sydney gives the overview of the expert elicitation workshop.

The current state of Palawan’s marine environment is being evaluated by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) in collaboration with the Australian government and academic institutions through an expert elicitation workshop (EEW).

The council, in partnership with Geoscience Australia and the University of Sydney, is jointly implementing the EEW to obtain a comprehensive understanding of Palawan’s marine environment.

According to PCSD spokesperson Jovic Fabello, factors such as disjointed data collection, lack of a unified strategy, limited physical access to challenged areas, and inadequate enforcement hinder the accurate assessment of the current state of the marine environment.

“Mapapansin na may discontinuity ng mga data that has been done in the past and the present. Parang si PCSD, we can only capture what has undergo participation with our agencies. But those other studies related to marine environment ng Palawan na independent or iba ‘yong nag-sanction, for example provincial government or USAID o iba,” he said.

(It can be observed that there is a discontinuity in the data gathered from the past and present. It seems that PCSD can only obtain data that has been collected in collaboration with their agencies. However, there are other studies on Palawan’s marine environment that were conducted independently or were commissioned by other entities such as the provincial government, USAID, or others.)

The series of lifts on the closed season for live fish also affects the generation of data on the effectiveness of the policy, added Fabello. The closed fishing season is supposed to provide time for fish to spawn and produce juveniles.

The willingness of local government units to religiously manage and police their areas is also a contributing factor to understanding the marine condition, he added.

The workshop brings together experts from across the province and the country from April 25 to 27 to gather information on the current condition, trends, and spatial aspects. The limited knowledge of the current condition hinders the ability to develop sustainable management strategies.

The EEW may help to increase the understanding of the marine environments to inform more effective and sustainable management strategies. The gaps and areas for future research and monitoring will also be identified.

DFAT-Australia and Deputy Head Mission in the Philippines Dr. Moya Collett said the country is one of the five countries partnered by DFAT. Working with the Philippines through PCSD will help create innovative solutions to challenges identified in the marine environment, she added.

Australian government believes that bringing together experts and stakeholders will also help to realize the challenges and strengths in the marine environment.

“Maritime regions like Australia and the Philippines understand the importance of marine environment for security and sustainable health of our planet, livelihood, tourism. But as we all know, the prosperity of our marine environment is at the threat from pollution, climate change, and exploitation,” she said in a recorded message.

Collett mentioned that the Australian government is investing P3.6 billion in regional maritime programs, including those in the Philippines. She also stated that they are investing in maritime education for Filipinos.

“With the challenges in the marine environment is facing, there has never been a more important time for Australia and the Philippines to come together to protect our precious aquatic environment,” she said.

Marine Resources Initiative Project
The workshop marks the beginning of the Marine Resources Initiative (MRI) project, which is funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of Australia and implemented by Geoscience Australia, the University of Sydney, and PCSD.

The MRI project aims to carry out marine spatial planning (MSP) that aligns with the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) for Palawan. The project proposes activities such as baseline mapping, marine zoning, and a study of Palawan’s vulnerability to climate change. These activities aim to improve the sustainable use of marine resources by developing zoning mechanisms for the management of marine space.

“Ang mahirap kasi kapag hindi natin alam kung saan ang mga sona na dapat pangisdaan at hindi, hit and miss ka lang. Hindi mo rin alam kung nakakabuti ba yon o nakakasama sa environment na ginagalawan. Mas maganda kung may zoning tayo sa marine (The challenge is that when we don’t know where the areas for fishing and non-fishing are, it’s just hit and miss. We don’t even know if it’s beneficial or detrimental to the environment. It would be better if we have zoning in the marine areas),” Fabello said.

“Kapag nasunod yon, nasisiguro natin na hindi madi-deplete o hindi mauubusan ng semilya para makapag-produce pa ng ganon din klase ng isda na hinuhuli (If that is followed, we can ensure that the fish stock will not be depleted or run out of juveniles to produce the same kind of fish being caught),” he added.