(From left to right) Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation co-founder and president Frédéric Tardieu, DENR Sec. Ma. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga, and French Ambassador to the Philippines, Michèle Boccoz, led the groundbreaking and blocks laying for the environmental research center of Shark Fin Bay in Barangay Sandoval, Taytay, northern Palawan. | Photo by Geoffrey Delahaye

Construction work has commenced for an innovative coastal ecological research center in Brgy. Sandoval, Taytay in northern Palawan, to support and ensure the sustainable utilization and management of resources in Shark Fin Bay marine protected areas.

Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation (SEF), which will build the model facility, broke ground and began laying the blocks on March 2 in the barangay to further support the small-scale environmental restoration projects that it has started implementing to save underwater ecosystems around the bay.

It was granted €527,000 (P31 million) in 2020 by the Fonds Français pour l’Environnement Mondial or French Facility for Global Environment (FFEM) to bolster the marine protected areas’ (MPAs) resilience and include the surrounding communities in the preservation and maintenance of their resources.

The foundation has established protection areas in the barangays of Sandoval, Dipla, and Silanga that Shark Fin Bay encompasses to carry out coral proliferation and habitat construction projects to repopulate fish stocks.

Frédéric Tardieu, one of the co-founders and the president of Sulubaaï, said that the facility will set a precedent of sustainability with its use of clean solar power and operation of organic farm for food needs.

“Today is a great day, the French and Philippine partnership is taking a step for the protection of seas in Palawan. It will be an international example of collaboration, it will be a model of sustainability with the solar energy and organic farm,” Tardieu said in his speech at the event.

“We will be able to welcome and host 10 young Filipino scientists—working together— finding innovation solution and restoration of ocean and coral,” he added.

Secretary Ma. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), who arrived in northern Palawan to visit the sewage and solid waste treatment plant in El Nido and to be attend the Sulubaaï groundbreaking event, said the project in the municipality of Taytay is the “first research center in terms of international collaboration.”

She added that the objective of doing scientific research with the most recent techniques and technology that can aid in marine biodiversity conservation can further enshrine awareness and knowledge with community and academic involvement.

“Para we are able to access the latest in the scientific research methods and latest technologies that might be available—we want to institutionalize the learning, the critical dimension of this collaboration, is we are able to access and we are also able to feature the unique biodiversity that is here,” she said.

Sulubaaï’s terrestrial and marine flora and fauna studies are a crucial component of restoration efforts since it is important for the locals to understand their characteristics and habits to comprehend how they can coexist in the bay.

She stressed that the goal is also to safeguard endangered marine species whose habitats are impacted by man-made or natural catastrophes.

Sulubaaï will also promote and develop community-based programs that improve and build environmentally friendly values and behaviors.

“Palawan is a very unique situation because you have the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), and UNESCO recognition already as a georeserve. What is important is that the development planning is coherent with the environmental agenda,” she said.

The French Ambassador to the Philippines, Michèle Boccoz, who is also present for the facility’s groundbreaking, stated that it is critical that everyone, including the community, participate in conservation efforts.

The environmental research center, she said, will also empower and encourage local communities to manage natural resources, as well as motivate local kids to contribute to environmental awareness.

“It has to be something that all population is on board or it wouldn’t work. For them to be on board, it needs to allow them to develop, to continue making a living and to have a better life as well,” she said.

“I think that preserving the environment, revitalizing the coral is really allowing the next generation to continue to live here and have sustainable life. That’s what we are looking at, the sustainability and the future, and having everybody on board sharing the knowledge,” she added.

The groundbreaking also commemorates France and the Philippines’ 75-year diplomatic partnership, in which both countries have committed to enhancing ocean preservation.

“We have one planet, one ocean, we are all sharing. I think the future that we are trying to preserve by finding the right measures is to finding the balance between sustainability for the environment and also being able to continue development in the country,” Boccoz said.

Boccoz added that protecting the environment must be sustainable and acceptable if there is to be a balance between conservation and allowing activities that help the economy grow.

“I think we have to make it sustainable and we make it acceptable for the population. Because here, you have a lot of fisherfolk who live by the sea. And what is important is to make sure that they can continue to do so. So we have to both do conservation and still allow the activities to continue ecotourism, fishing,” she said.

Loyzaga also thinks that MPAs are like ecosystem services in that they are very important for food security.

“Those economic services along with the contribution to the food security situation of the province need to be invested in. We cannot leave them to go their own direction or left to be random, that is to be part of an integrated, sustainable, and climate-resilient development planning for the whole province,” Loyzaga said.

Mayor Christian Rodriguez also attended the event for marine protected areas in Taytay.

Sulubaaï is also supported by Blancpain, a Swiss luxury watch manufacturer.