NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 09 Dec) — A notable intervention conceived by marine scientists to arrest the deteriorating quality of ocean habitats and declining resources is the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs).
A marine protected area is essentially a space in the ocean or coastal waters where human activities are more strictly regulated than the surrounding waters to serve the purpose of conservation, education and tourism similar to parks established on land.
In the Philippines, where fisheries harvest has been declining precariously due to over exploitation and unsustainable practices, an MPA is generally established primarily to serve as sanctuary of the fish and other marine organisms of the area to allow them to reproduce naturally unperturbed and replenish their dwindling population. Education and tourism are happy consequences of a successfully-managed MPA.
After three or five years, a well-managed MPA benefits fishers through the spill over of replenished fish population from the protected area to the outside or free zone.
Most MPAs in the country are established along the coast and are often run by the local government units (LGUs). A single relatively large MPA for the entire municipality is often managed by the municipal government. On the other hand, small-scale MPAs are managed by the barangay government with the active participation of the local community.
In a community-based MPA, the local folks are actively involved in all the phases of establishment and management – determining the location and size of the protected area; zoning, marking and setting indicators for the boundaries; crafting of policies and regulations, and enforcement.
In my sojourn as a researcher and trainer on coastal resources management, I chanced upon an impressive model on community participation in law enforcement in the protection of a vital resource.
Instead of establishing a single MPA for the entire municipality, the LGU of Magsaysay, Misamis Oriental allowed each coastal barangay to establish where feasible its own community-managed MPA.
The coastal folk, to include women, youth, teachers, all people organizations (POs) and non-government organizations (NGOs) were involved and informed in the discussion of the policies, guidelines, rules and regulations prepared by the Sangguniang Barangay in the establishment, maintenance and protection of the MPA. Teams were formed to attend to specific responsibilities and tasks in realizing the MPA. The transparent, consensual participation strategy develops among community members a sense of identification, belonging and ownership of the project. This strongly manifested in the area of protecting the MPA project from poachers or intruders.
Every household was required to have at least one empty kerosene can or some hollow bamboo tubes (kuratong) to be drummed repeatedly by anyone who noticed a stranger, not a uniformed MPA Tanod or Watch, going into the MPA. Those who hear the drumming are also to drum their cans and kuratongs. After a while, everybody in the community would be beating his drum sending signals to the intruder that the entire community is aware of his presence. The strategy was found very effective in warding off or driving away any intruder.
In driving away potential intruders, a crime was prevented, sparing barangay LGU officials from the hazards of arresting MPA ordinance violators and from the trouble in hailing them to court. In effect, even school kids were involved in the protection of the community MPA and in preventing the commission of crime in the locality.
After a while, the fisherfolk reported increased and bigger fish catch in the surrounding waters.
In all human concerns, there is no substitute to prevention as a policy in warding off potential problems or undesirable circumstances. And no doubt the community may be judiciously engaged in preventing social and security problems, say, the nefarious practice of corruption, the spread and growth of terrorism and the drug menace. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental)