In the coasts of Northern Palawan, Oriental Mindoro and Batangas City, where Malampaya Foundation Inc. (MFI) forged community-based marine biodiversity conservation partnerships, volunteer deputized bantay dagat enforcers and National Protected Area park rangers continue their difficult enforcement duties to protect natural coastal resources amidst the enhanced community quarantine in the locations due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Importante ang pagbabantay [ng Marine Protected Areas] kasi baka ito’y pasukin ng ibang mga mangingisda, at upang mapangalagaan ang mga yamang dagat para ito'y yumabong, ang mga isda at iba pa,” Gorgonio Polilan, 46, Bantay dagat from Coron, Palawan.

[“Guarding the marine protected areas is crucial at this time to conserve marine resources as some fishermen may try to come in and fish illegally in the area. It needs continuous management and protection for the recovery and replenishment of fish stocks and others.”]

The community enforcers are supported by MFI as part of its conservation agreement commitment to strengthen protection of marine protected areas (MPAs) and enforcement of environmental and fisheries laws in the different areas to watch a total of over 22,000 hectares of community-managed MPAs and national park marine management zones with an estimated total economic value (TEV) of P1.6 billion per year based on a recent Philippine reefs valuation of US$140,000/km2/year (Tamayo N.C. et al, 2018).

The TEV computation does not include 118,000 hectares of fisheries management area in Oriental Mindoro, whose establishment and management is supported by Malampaya and likewise effectively-protected by the community enforcers under the guidance of the Provincial Agriculture Office, Local Government Units, MPA and Enforcement Networks, together with national agencies like the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, PNP-Maritime, and the Philippine Coast Guard.

At the onset of the enhanced community quarantine due to the COVID-19 crisis, MFI immediately deployed food support to deputised bantay dagats and park rangers consisting of a 25kg-sack of rice each, fresh & processed meats, and fresh vegetables to ensure their enforcement tasks are not hampered by lack of food for themselves and their families. With the food support, MFI was able to help 365 families of environment front-liners in Palawan, Oriental Mindoro, and Batangas who regularly conduct foot and seaborne patrols in the vicinity of the MPA.

Bantay dagat from Oriental Mindoro, Marites Asi, 47, shared, “Agad ay may suporta ang MFI para sa aming mga bantay dagat tulad ngayon. Malaking tulong po sa amin ang ipinaabot nila para sa amin.” [“MFI has extended immediate support to us sea rangers especially now. They have been very helpful to us.”]

“Being a part of the skeletal force during this pandemic is not an easy task. Conducting patrols, responding to environmental threats and providing assistance to the community while abiding the rules and regulations of the ECQ is really a tough challenge. The support provided by the MFI such as rice subsidy and groceries is a great help during these challenging times, especially to those whose means of livelihood are heavily affected by the lockdown. The trainings and seminars hosted by MFI also boosted our knowledge to further enhance our services for environment protection,” stated El Nido National Park ranger Hero Jeff Isidro, Male, 30.

The individuals are regularly supported by MFI with other conservation incentives annually such as insurance, livelihood support, annual rice provisions and vocational scholarships for qualified family members. The foundation forged individual conservation partnerships with the Provincial and Local Government Units, and different communities from 2013 onwards to launch community-based actions in the establishment of new and/or expansion of MPAs and Fisheries Management Areas, MPA councils, implementation of responsive MPA management plans, rehabilitation of degraded coastal species-forming habitats, regular monitoring, socio-economic support to fisher families through supplemental livelihoods and education drives.

Since 2013, eighteen (18) out of 35 MPAs covered by the conservation partnerships have been recognized as Best-Managed MPAs at the local, regional and national levels. Among notable biological improvements observed in effectively-managed MPAs are increasing fish abundance and reef recovery with several areas exhibiting return of endangered species such as the napoleon wrasse, sea cow and apex predators like the black-tip shark after several years of absence.