The Philippines is at the apex of the Coral Triangle and among the top fish and seafood producing nations, from capture fisheries and aquaculture production. The Tubbataha Reefs is among the top diving destinations in the world due to diversity and extent of its coral reefs, as well as the assured sighting of mega fauna for every dive. At the same time, 71% of its fisheries with available data are overfished, but it is among the top exporters of tuna to the European Union. WWF-Philippines is working in Tubbataha Reefs and is implementing a tuna Fishery Improvement Project (FIP).
The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park and World Heritage Site is a famous diving destination, but its real value is beyond the aesthetic. The reefs supply coral and fish larvae in the Sulu Sea, particularly eastern Palawan, the single highest producer of municipal fishery in the country. Tubbataha was declared a marine park closed to fishing in 1988, and measures 970 sq km. Over the past 30 years, the park has shown remarkable resiliency through complete recovery from coral bleaching and Crown-of-thorns infestation, and has become the Philippine benchmark of a well-managed Marine Protected Area (MPA) not only because of biodiversity but also the public and private partnerships that made it possible.
The success of Tubbataha is great news but its also old news. If the success of a natural park is measured not just by biodiversity but the benefits it brings to people and their government, Tubbataha is still a winner. In September 2016, the municipality of Cagayancillo where Tubbataha belongs declared 10,000 square kilometres of its surrounding coastal and marine area as an MPAten times the size of Tubbataha. However, in a developing country like the Philippines, the declaration of the MPA is just the beginning. The real challenge is in setting up the mechanisms and systems that would make it a functional park. WWF-Philippines together with old and new partners commit to work with the municipal government to face the challenge.
The tuna FIP sites are in central parts of the Philippines, in Mindoro Strait and Lagonoy Gulf. The project sites are composed of 4 provinces and 21 municipalities, with a total of 6,000 small-scale artisanal fishers. Since 2011, the FIP has been able to set up the social and governance mechanisms that would make the fisheries management informed by science possible in Lagonoy Gulf. In early 2017, the 15 municipalities surrounding the Gulf started discussing harvest control measures. They intend to start with tuna, but the long-term goal is gulf-wide sustainable fisheries management.
At Mindoro Strait, local fish dealers estimate 80% of tuna are for the export market, an increase from an estimated 40% at the start of the project, by no means a small feat for the FIP. However, the fish dealers have reaped more of the benefits compared to the fishers themselves. Over the next five years, WWF commits to setting up social structures in Mindoro to empower small-scale fishers through fairer trade.