Led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI), the Fourth Asia-Pacific Coral Reef Symposium (APCRS) runs from 4 to 8 June 2018 in Cebu City, Philippines.
With the theme, “Coral Reefs of the Asia-Pacific: Working Together Amidst Contemporary Challenges,” the APCRS aims to encourage collaborative actions among scientists, educators, managers, environmentalists, and relevant local stakeholders from key organizations in the Asia-Pacific in conserving and sustainably managing the region’s marine resources.
The four-day symposium sponsored by the Asia Pacific Coral Reef Society (APCoRS), features plenary speakers, mini-symposia, workshops, oral and poster presentations, and latest researches in all aspects of coral reef biology, ecology, management, and conservation.

Safeguarding the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape (TSPS)
As part of the APCRS, Oceana Philippines, an international marine conservation and advocacy organization, and Rare, a non-profit environmental service organization, commemorate the developments in the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape (TSPS) as a fully functioning protected seascape and the efforts in marine biodiversity conservation on 5 June 2018 at Parklane Hotel, Cebu City, Philippines.
The TSPS is one of the proclaimed Protected Areas in the Philippines under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) and is considered the largest marine protected area in the Philippines. It is a migration corridor for whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), dolphins, and other marine mammals, and provides shelter for 26 species of mangroves, seven species of seagrass, and more than 18,000 hectares of coral reef.

One of the highlights of the event is the recognition of the Executive Director of the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), Dr. Theresa Mundita S. Lim, whose leadership as then-Director of the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) of the DENR was instrumental in the protection of the TSPS and in the advancement of marine conservation efforts for important coastal ecosystems.

Oceana Philippines, RARE, and the BMB worked together in crafting and implementing strong laws and policies that address problems in the oceans and building lasting solutions to protect marine habitats and rebuild the fisheries sector. Their advocacy approaches focused on behavior change, community engagement, establishing networks of marine protected areas, habitat protection, institutional strengthening, and coastal resilience.

“We learned a lot from the Tañon Strait experience—especially about the importance of community participation in its management and conservation. Let us continue this practice in other marine areas as well,” said Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Vice President of Oceana Philippines. “Knowing that we have honest and dedicated public servants and partners, gives us an assurance that together, we can make things happen,” she added.

Among their undertakings was the SMARTSeas Philippines project funded by the Global Environment Facility and executed by the United Nations Development Programme. This venture worked with the Protected Area Office and 17 Local Government Units in promoting sustainable fisheries inside a marine key biodiversity area. They also partnered on the Coastal and Marine Ecosystems Management Program which include capacity building of various DENR staff, including protected area supervisors and regional offices to run behavior change and social marketing campaigns.

The General Management Plan of Tañon Strait was also developed, which ensured that no commercial fishing operates within the area, and that illegal encroachment of commercial fishing vessels within TSPS was curbed.

“We have seen enforcers make the law come alive, and we have seen individuals rising to become heroes. Much of these was made possible by the DENR, especially by the Biodiversity Management Bureau under the then-Director Dr. Lim,” said Rare Philippines Vice President in her speech.

Also present in the event was Norlan Pagal, a resident of a fishing village in Cebu and is a recipient of the 2016 Ocean Heroes Award. He was recognized by Oceana Philippines for risking his life to stop illegal fishers from pillaging his village's waters. He is now paralyzed from waist down but his condition did not stop him from continuing to watch for violators and illegal fishers along Tañon Strait. “On behalf of the small-scale fishermen, I would like to thank you for this partnership. We have learned a lot from our meetings and from your shared knowledge on how it is to be good stewards of our environment. Thank you for the support you have given us, which will help us improve our means of protecting our environment,” said Pagal in his local language.

The collaborative activities and strategies at Tañon Strait addresses the challenge of “severe under-representation of marine habitats and ecosystems” reported by the ACB in the Protected Areas Gap Analysis in the ASEAN region. These activities are also in line with the resolution on a network of marine protected areas initiated by the ACB and passed by the Philippine government during the Twelfth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS COP12) held from 23 to 28 October 2017 in Manila, Philippines. The resolution urged governments to “continue development of transboundary area-based conservation measures including marine protected areas, particularly in the ASEAN Region,” and encouraged them to uphold the development and implementation of ecological networks.

Pushing for conserving ASEAN’s marine biodiversity

The ASEAN region is home to a third of the world’s coastal and marine habitats that include coral reefs, mangroves, estuaries, sandy and rocky beaches, seagrass and seaweed beds and other soft bottom communities. These habitats and their resident species provide breeding, nursing, and feeding grounds for marine plants and animals, food, and resources important to livelihoods of coastal communities.

The economic benefits of ASEAN’s marine biodiversity are immense. It is estimated that the total potential sustainable annual economic net benefits per square kilometer of healthy coral reefs alone in the region ranges from USD 23,100 to USD 270,000 arising from fisheries, shoreline protection, tourism, recreation, and aesthetic values.

However, the continuous overexploitation of coastal and marine resources, habitat change, pollution, and climate change, among many other drivers of biodiversity loss threaten the rich marine resources of the region.

“As I take on the challenge as the Executive Director of the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, I hope to encourage more collective efforts in protecting and conserving the rich marine resources, not just of the Philippines, but of the entire ASEAN region. If we can establish the interconnectivity of the ASEAN marine ecosystems, it would be easier to support it at the regional level,” said Dr. Lim. “We have to scale up our efforts, and learn from the experience in Tañon Strait where three provinces came together for its protection; because vital marine resources, such as fisheries and other migratory species, transcend political boundaries. It is similar to the ASEAN, where cooperation is needed among ten countries to protect common sea areas, for marine biodiversity to thrive and better benefit the people of the region,” she added.

The ACB is an intergovernmental organization that facilitates cooperation and coordination among the ASEAN Member States and with relevant national governments, regional and international organizations on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, guided by fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of such natural resources. The ACB is the sole ASEAN centre being hosted by the Philippines.

To know more about the ACB, log on to www.aseanbiodiversity.org.