Photo-identification surveys of whale sharks are something that the team working on the Palawan Whale Shark Research and Conservation Project does as part of their job. | Photo by Robin Gould (LAMAVE)

A partnership between the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS) and the Large Marine Vertebrates (LAMAVE) Research Institute Philippines has been formed with the goal of improving marine megafauna understanding and conservation efforts in the province and Southeast Asia.

The collaboration was approved at the 300th PCSD Meeting on March 30, 2023, and the memorandum of agreement (MOA) was signed at the PCSD Main Building on April 19, 2023.

PCSDS spokesperson Jovic Fabello told Palawan News that the collaborative project, titled “PCSDS-LAMAVE Collaborative Project to Enhance Marine Megafauna Knowledge and Conservation in Palawan and Southeast Asia,” aims to increase local communities’ awareness and participation in the conservation and protection of marine megafauna and their habitats.

Megafauna refers to large marine animals, predominantly vertebrates, that inhabit marine environments such as oceans, seas, and coastlines. This includes whales, dolphins, sharks, stingrays, marine turtles, and massive fish species such as tuna. Due to their function in marine ecosystems and significance in conservation and research efforts, these marine vertebrates are frequently regarded as ecologically significant.

PCSDS OIC executive director Niño Rey Estoya, PCSDS director Levita Lagrada as a witness, LAMAVE President Maria Jessica June Labaja, LAMAVE vice president and project manager Ariana Isabel, and other staff of the PCSDS on April 19, 2023. | Photo from PCSDS

He said the alliance intends to construct and maintain a network of skilled marine animal first responders and veterinarians, as well as first aid facilities and specialist marine turtle hospitals.

“Ang pinaka main concern yong mga large marine vertebrates—balyena, pating, especially turtles din. Plan nilang magtayo ng turtle hospital (The main concern is the large marine vertebrates, such as whales, sharks, and especially turtles. They are planning to establish a turtle hospital),” which can be mobile or stationary, he said.

“Malaking tulong sila sa amin, noong nakahuli kami ng pagkarami-raming sharksfin, sila yong tumulong sa amin na mag-identify kung anu-anong mga species yon. Kinunan din nila ng DNA samples. Malaking tulong sila in terms of filing ng cases kasi sa filing ng kaso sa court, kailangan ma-ID mo ng maayos ang mga species (They were a big help to us when we apprehended a large quantity of shark fins. They assisted us in identifying the species and took DNA samples. They were also a great help in terms of filing cases because in court, proper species identification is required),” added Fabello. 

Fabello noted that what Palawan now needs are specialists in large marine species and that anytime they want assistance, only the team from Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) comes to help for scientific purposes.

The MOA states that PCSDS will give technical and policy direction to LAMAVE, while the non-government organization will provide field knowledge and help in the performance of different conservation operations, such as stranded marine species rescue and release, as well as data and sample collecting.

PCSDS will also assist LAMAVE in establishing linkages with other government agencies and relevant management and decision-making boards.

“On the scientific side sila, but kailangan natin silang i-guide pagdating sa mga pertinent laws. Syempre sa wildlife act, may mga ibang sections doon na may protocols na, i-ga-guide namin sila na dapat tama yong ginagawa nila (They are on the scientific side, but we need to guide them when it comes to pertinent laws. In the wildlife act, there are already sections with protocols that need to be followed, so we will guide them to ensure that they are doing things correctly),” Fabello said.

The 5-year agreement was signed with the presence of PCSDS OIC executive director Niño Rey Estoya, PCSDS director Levita Lagrada as a witness, LAMAVE President Maria Jessica June Labaja as signatory, and LAMAVE vice president and project manager Ariana Isabel Agustines as a witness. (with a report from Celeste Anna Formoso)