The Beacon

Blog Tags: Marine Protected Areas

Fish as a Lifeline for Filipinos

Ayoke Island, Philippines. © Suzannah Evans

Editor's note: This is part 3 in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.

Ayoke Island may be the most idyllic place I’ve ever seen. It’s a small island in the northern part of Lanuza Bay covered with a riot of coconut and palm trees.

The town is a small cluster of bamboo and thatch homes. I was lucky enough to get to snorkel in the aqua waters of the Ayoke Island MPA with Lito, a Rare staffer, while fishers held a community meeting in the guardhouse. Unlike the waters of Cortes, which contain mostly an undulating seagrass meadow, Ayoke is home to a stunning reef with ten-foot table corals and seemingly endless clusters of branch corals.

But even in this paradise, there are signs of trouble. We saw very few fish, although I did spot one fat sea cucumber resting on a table coral. I didn’t see any giant clams, although Lito said he saw a dead one. Broken patches of branch corals littering the ground were evidence of dynamite fishing.

Even so, Ayoke Island’s MPA was named one of the Philippines’ top 10 marine protected areas, no small feat in a country with 1,600 MPAs, the most in the world. But as recently as December the community faced a real test when the MPA was dynamited during the town’s fiesta, when no one was volunteering at the guardhouse. No one knew about the bombing until a family that was new to town showed up at the market with several boxes of fish that everyone immediately recognized as the result of dynamite fishing. As fishers told Cherry Ravelo, Rare’s conservation fellow for Ayoke and nearby General Island, they felt like they had been robbed.


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From Dynamite Fishing to Sustainable Fishing

Rare fellow Vincent Duenas educates the community about MPAs. © Suzannah Evans

Editor's note: This is part 2 in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.

One of the biggest challenges facing sustainable fishing in the Philippines is the prevalence of dynamite fishing, where fishers create an improvised bomb out of a rum or Coke bottle and ammonium sulfate. The sound wave created by the explosion stuns the fish, which float to the surface, but it also destroys corals and seagrass meadows that can take years to recover from a single blast.  

Dynamite fishing has been a problem in Cortes, a town on the southern half of Lanuza Bay. There’s a lot of pressure to fish here no matter the cost, because the area produces no other local meat or fruit – everything except some coconuts is sold at the market in Tandag, a half-hour drive to the south. As a result, 80 percent of the residents are fishers, and much of the fish they catch is used to feed their families.

This makes Cortes a perfect location for a Rare campaign, and the mayor, Pedro Trinidad Jr., is an enthusiastic participant. Along with Rare conservation fellow Vincent Duenas, the mayor has upped enforcement of the local MPA – one of Cortes’ eight MPAs – with 24/7 volunteer guards. The mayor has even gotten approval to start a landmark program that would require families on welfare assistance to volunteer for shifts in the guardhouse, the first program of its kind in the country.

Vince’s work to educate the town about dynamite and illegal fishing has been so successful that fishermen who were part of the problem have now come around. “Illegal fishermen are now stewards of the sea,” the mayor said as we met over lunch. “Those who were dynamiting the fish are now guarding the MPA.”

Later, we went to visit the guardhouse in Uba, a tiny town of 150 fishing families a short drive from Cortes. Vince’s campaign mascot, a friendly oversize rabbitfish named Rabita, made an appearance – swarmed by children – and we met with a dozen fishers and their wives and daughters in the guardhouse, located on a rocky outcropping just outside town.


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Creating 'Fish Banks' in the Philippines

One of the popular fish mascots on Mindanao island. © Suzannah Evans.

Editor's note: This is part 1 in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.

The northeast coast of Mindanao island in the Philippines is home to a series of small towns comprised almost completely of fishing families.

Last week, I visited several of the municipalities along with Rare, a US-based group that is working to protect the region’s local fishing livelihoods and help keep the communities out of the poverty spiral that can happen when there’s no more fish, and therefore, no more food.

Rare sponsors conservation fellows in 12 areas in the Philippines. These fellows, who are members of the community, become part of Rare’s two-year program to end destructive and illegal fishing and safeguard the local marine protected area, which is kind of a “fish bank” for the town. In return, the fellows earn a master’s degree from the University of Texas.

These marine protected areas (MPAs) are quite small – 100 acres here, 200 acres there – but they make a huge difference to the communities, which include fishers working from paddle dugout and outrigger canoes with basic hook-and-line or net gear. Before Rare’s campaigns got started last fall, many of the MPAs weren’t really guarded closely and illegal fishing within the boundaries, which are usually marked by buoys or bamboo poles, was difficult to stop. But now Rare’s fellows have been organizing 24/7 enforcement of the MPAs and for the most part, illegal and destructive fishing has been greatly curbed.

Rare’s projects are called Pride Campaigns because they take care to show the towns that they have something special and worth protecting. The MPA guards are all volunteers, with overnight shifts lasting 12 hours or more, and we learned that some of the guards are local fishermen who were once illegally fishing within the MPA before learning the value of protecting it.

In addition to staffing the MPA, the Rare fellows create a mascot for the campaign that’s based on the area’s flagship species, like rabbitfish, lobster or giant clams. These cute anthropomorphized creatures have quickly become the most popular parts of the campaigns. In the little villages of Mindanao, the arrival of the mascots is a major event.

I’ll talk a little more about each fellow that I met in upcoming posts, but I first want to thank Rare for letting me tag along on these site visits. It was really an extraordinary experience.


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Oregon House Approves Marine Reserves, MPAs

Oregon's Otter Rock. © Oceana/Will Race

Great news! Today the Oregon House passed a bill making Oregon’s first network of marine reserves and marine protected areas (MPAs). The bill, which Oceana has been actively supporting, now goes to the governor’s desk for a signature.

The bill calls on state agencies, the State Fish and Wildlife Commission, and State Land Board to create marine reserves and adjacent MPAs at Cape Falcon, Cascade Head and Cape Perpetua. 

The three new marine reserves and MPAs add 109 square miles (70,000 acres) to the already designated 9 square miles of area at Redfish Rocks and Otter Rock.  All areas combined total less than 10 percent of Oregon’s Territorial Sea; leaving the vast majority of Oregon’s Pacific waters open to fishing and development. The marine reserves will be ‘no-take’ and the MPAs will allow activities like fishing for Dungeness crab and salmon, while prohibiting bottom trawling, the harvest of forage fish, and offshore development.

Marine reserves have positive ecological benefits inside and outside of their protective boundaries, as fish and wildlife populations increase and then spill over into adjacent areas. 

“This is a great first step in protecting sensitive and important ecological areas off our coasts,” said Whit Sheard, Pacific counsel and senior advisor with Oceana. “This bill represents some difficult compromises, but it is a critical step forward for the long-term management of our publicly held ocean resources.”

Oceana will continue to work with regional managers and local communities to ensure the future well-being of the Pacific Ocean off Oregon and its wildlife.


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Oregon Senate Passes Bill to Create Marine Reserves

otter rock in oregon

Oregon's Otter Rock. © Oceana/Will Race

Today the Oregon Senate passed Senate Bill 1510, which brings Oregon’s first network of marine reserves and marine protected areas off the Oregon coast one step closer to implementation.

An ecologically significant network of marine reserves and protected areas would make the entire Oregon near-shore ecosystem more healthy and resilient to increasing pressures from overfishing, habitat damage, and changing ocean conditions from global warming and ocean acidification.

The bill will now have to pass the House before heading to the Governor’s desk for signing. If it does, Oregon’s marine reserve and protected area sites will total 118 square miles and make up less than 10 percent of the Pacific Ocean waters in the state’s jurisdiction. (See a map here.) We see this as a great start, but we hope Oregon will continue to identify all of its important ecological areas and ultimately build an ecologically significant network of protected areas and reserves for the full coast. 


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Oceana’s Expedition Shows Need to Protect the Baltic

As a part of European Maritime Day, today Oceana’s team in the Baltic released some initial findings from the ongoing expedition. They presented guidelines for the protection of the Baltic Sea, including rules for sustainable fisheries management, habitat protection and ending harmful fishing subsidies.

The expedition team has been documenting the incredible biodiversity of the Baltic; check out the latest photos - from beautiful nudibranchs to grey seals to a dead jellyfish in the oxygen-deprived bottom of the deepest part of the Baltic:

These photos reveal the impact of pollution, overfishing and destructive fishing practices on the Baltic, but they also show areas with healthy ecosystems and rich biodiversity, providing a window into what the Baltic Sea could look like if Marine Protected Areas are expanded and well-protected, and if laws and regulations are fully enforced.

Studies have shown that such enhanced protection measures and more stringent management of fish resources would benefit fishermen and local communities dependent on fisheries, as well as at-risk ecosystems.

Stay tuned for more from our team in the Baltic!


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Ocean Hero Finalists: Dirk Rosen

dirk rosen

Dirk Rosen flies an ROV at the Farallon Islands 27 miles off of San Francisco, California.

This is the sixth in a series of posts about this year’s Ocean Hero finalists.

At age four, Dirk Rosen’s mother taught him to fish. At age 10, he learned to dive for abalone. In college, he earned his tuition teaching scuba diving.

Guided by this lifelong love of the ocean, Dirk has spent his career applying his expertise with robotic submarines to protect deep-sea marine ecosystems.

Working in and around deepwater environments (2000+ feet deep), Dirk discovered an urgent need to develop more accurate fish and habitat assessments in order to sustainably manage marine resources. In 2003, he founded Marine Applied Research and Exploration (MARE), a non-profit research organization, to collect deepwater data on marine ecosystems using state-of-the-art technical tools.


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Oceana Proposes a Canary Islands MPA

Last week, in a culmination of several years of work, our European colleagues presented a proposal to protect 15% of the marine area around Spain’s Canary Islands. If the proposal is accepted, it would multiply the current protected area by 100.

Here’s the back story: In 2009 the Oceana Ranger, our research catamaran, sailed to the Canaries, which are off the coast of Morocco. Over the course of two months, the crew documented the seamounts and seabeds of the archipelago, and found a dozen species never before seen in the area, and filmed many rare species, including three-foot-tall glass sponges, Venus fly-trap anemones and lollipop sponges. (For more on the Canaries see this piece from our magazine last winter.)

The protected area would harbor many other threatened species in the area, such as sea turtles, deep-sea sharks, seahorses, the giant grouper, blue and right whales and the white gorgonian.


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Setting Sail for Sala y Gómez and Easter Island

The Chilean Naval ship Comandante Toro.

On Sunday Oceana and the National Geographic Society, in an unprecedented collaboration with the Chilean Navy, launched a scientific expedition to the waters that surround Chile’s Sala y Gómez Island and Easter Island.

The expedition comes after a preliminary trip by Oceana and National Geographic last March. The results of that initial journey, as you may recall, led the Chilean government to create a no-take marine reserve, Motu Motiro Hiva Marine Park, around Sala y Gómez. At 150,000 square kilometers, the park increases Chile’s protected marine areas from 0.03% to 4.4%.

The scientific results of this expedition will be crucial in monitoring the new marine park, and the scientists will assess the health of the waters surrounding Easter Island to determine the need for new conservation measures. Easter Island’s EEZ includes currently unprotect underwater mountains.


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Speak Up for Oregon's Coast!

Listen up, Oregonian ocean lovers (and non-Oregonians, too!) Right now we have a chance to create a system of marine reserves and protected areas off Oregon’s coast, and we need your help!

Oregon’s Marine Reserve Community Teams are working to plan marine reserves and protected areas at Cascade Head, Cape Perpetua, and Cape Falcon, and alternative proposals are being considered in the Cape Arago region.

These marine reserves and protected areas will leave 93% of Oregon's oceans open to current activities while creating sanctuaries where marine life and habitats can flourish. Marine reserves will bolster the local economy while protecting Oregon’s marine resources from habitat destruction and overfishing.

They need to hear from you by the end of November, so speak up today!

Afterwards, help spread the word by sharing on Facebook and posting on Twitter.


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