Tub­bataha takes on a twin


THE TWIN ATOLLS that many divers would rate the best sites in the Philip­pines, the Tub­bataha Reefs, have some com­pany. The is­land clus­ter of Ca­gayan­cillo is al­most equally re­mote – a promis­ing sign for a great dive des­ti­na­tion. It’s now a newly de­clared Ma­rine Pro­tected Area that at 1 mil­lion hectares is now the largest in the na­tion, touch­ing on Tub­bataha’s wa­ters. The Philip­pines has plenty of “MPAS,” as the Ma­rine Pro­tected Ar­eas are known: 1,557 at last count. But only just over 100 have any proper over­sight, ac­cord­ing to the WWF, plagued by a lack of fund­ing. While de­clared by the gov­ern­ment, MPAS are gen­er­ally ad­min­is­tered by the coastal com­mu­ni­ties that abut them. But there’s al­ways a con­flict be­tween the de­sire to pre­serve the en­vi­ron­ment and the press­ing need to fish near their homes. Un­til now, the fo­cus of cre­at­ing the zones has been to pro­tect bio­di­ver­sity rather than re­plen­ish fish stocks. It’s hard to buy an ab­stract idea that more fish will even­tu­ally re­sult from ma­rine pro­tec­tion when there’s the need to put food on your plate. But the 7,000 or so peo­ple who live in Ca­gayan­cillo “clam­oured” to have their wa­ters de­clared an MPA, the WWF says. Why? Lo­cals were al­ready ben­e­fit­ing from the seafood bounty head­ing their way from the Tub­bataha Reefs. Just over half of the MPA is now a coastal-ma­rine area that bal­ances mu­nic­i­pal fish­eries with eco­tourism. The re­main­ing 400,000 or so hectares of open wa­ter in the pre­serve link Ca­gayan­cillo with Tub­bataha. The fish­er­men of Ca­gayan­cillo have no­ticed the spillover through in­creased catch since Tub­bataha be­came a no-take zone in 1988. “For years, we have had an abun­dant fish sup­ply ,” Ca­gayan­cillo-based con­ser­va­tion­ist Ni­son Aba­dos says. “I re­ally be­lieve some of them come from Tub­bataha, es­pe­cially the big ones.”

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