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The Philippines lies within the ‘coral triangle’ – the epicentre of marine biodiversity – and is home to around 3,000 fish species, 500 coral species and over 40 species of mangroves. Endangered species of sea turtles, whale sharks, yellowfin tuna and dolphins also inhabit these waters.
The reefs are among the most threatened in the world due to overfishing, destructive fishing methods, pollution, coral mining and unregulated coral reef tourism, all of which contribute to the rapid decline of marine life and the destruction of these vital habitats.
The Philippines has a diverse human population with approximately 14% of the population considered indigenous. In many cases areas of high biodiversity are inhabited by indigenous communities. The marine and coastal systems of the Philippines are critical to the wellbeing of the people who live there. Fish constitutes nearly 70% of inhabitants’ protein intake and also provides a source of income for around 6.5 million small-scale fishers and their families. The reefs have long been used as traditional fishing grounds, and are considered by the indigenous people to be ancestral waters. As a number of stakeholders are reliant on these reefs, its destruction would have wide-ranging and detrimental social and economic consequences.
Conflict between marine resource users is increasing as commercial fishers take an ever larger percentage of total catch, outcompeting local fishermen for dwindling resources. Conflict has also arisen over the use of the indigenous people’s ancestral fishing grounds by non-indigenous in-migrants. The indigenous people consider their traditional fishing areas sacred as their ancestors have fished there for generations, a view that is not necessarily appreciated by recent settlers.
In addition, there exists overlapping legislation with regards to coastal management resulting in a lack of clarity and understanding over the relevant laws affecting the marine environment, with stakeholders often unaware or confused by the different types of legislation affecting ancestral domains.
Fauna & Flora International’s (FFI’s) current work on marine management in the Philippines focuses on two sites: one on the island of Palawan and the other on the island of Luzon. FFI is working with local indigenous groups, stakeholders and the government at project sites to support these communities to better understand relevant legislation and how to work within these to manage and conserve their ancestral waters.
In addition FFI is building the capacity of indigenous organisations so that they have the tools and skills required to effectively manage their ancestral waters in the long term. Biodiversity surveys of the area will also be carried out, and monitoring systems developed to tackle illegal fishing. These measures should create a sense of ownership among local communities. It is anticipated that ancestral water areas will be zoned (including no-take areas) and will function as locally-managed marine areas.
In addition to the two existing projects, FFI would also like to set up further ancestral waters projects in the Philippines, with an ongoing view to building a resilient network of locally-managed ancestral waters. We hope that the current sites will act as a springboard to for us to set up further similar projects throughout the Philippines and to serve as models to inform regional and national policy change which provides greater clarity.