The Saving Philippine Reefs Project of the Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation, Inc. assessed the coral reef condition and updated the data of selected sites in the Calamianes Islands in Palawan with special consideration for the sites being assisted by the Fisheries for Improved Sustainable Harvest (FISH) Project of Tetra Tech, Inc. supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Information on the coral cover, other substratum, fish fauna, invertebrates and possible causes of coral damage were collected. This set of data is complimented by social information as indicated by the existing human activities observed within the MPA vicinity, a community perception survey and a management rating survey. Patterns of resource use and biophysical trends exhibited in surveyed sites with past data are provided.
Live hard coral (LHC) cover in the 10 surveyed sites ranges from fair to good. Culambuyan East (Busuanga) had the highest LHC with 61.3% both at the mean depth of 6.5 meters (scuba) and 3.2 meters (snorkel). Fish diversity (41.5 species/500m2) and density (17,674.5 individuals/500m2) were also the highest in the survey area. This reflects the long-term (10 years) effort of the private owner in guarding and protecting the site.
The remaining sites surveyed showed lower fish densities and species richness which indicates high fishing pressure. Low total counts of butterflyfish and angelfish indicate heavy collection of aquarium species as confirmed by interviews and existing data. Some fish families (Acanthuridae, Carangidae, Balistidae and Haemulidae, Anthiinae, Amphiprion spp.) were consistently absent or were present in very small numbers. This may be due to the high frequency of aquarium and commercial fishing that still occurs in the area. However, some fish species that are not commonly found in other locations in the Philippines were sited in the survey area. Examples of these rare species are Altricthys spp. (Pomacentridae), Parachaetodon ocellatus (Chaetodontidae), and Bolbometopon muricatum (Pomacentridae).
The Calamianes group of Islands is indeed an important eco-region and harbors a highly diverse marine and coastal environment. Historically and to the present, evidence shows that these resources have been threatened by unregulated fishing and general resource exploitation. Moreover, this area is home to indigenous peoples (Tagbanua tribe) whose lives have been and still are intimately associated with the environmental resources. A coordinated effort among all local governments and organizations within the Calamianes area is necessary for effective and lasting management results. Some recommendations are presented to guide and help improve MPA management and area- wide coral reef conservation initiatives.
Calamianes has a unique geologic history. The terrestrial area is characterized by rocky mountainous and coastal karst formations that serve as a habitat to a diverse collection of animals and birds in a thickly forested area. These islands have long been home to a number of indigenous people away from modern Manila. Calamianes likewise offers a unique set of aquatic ecosystems. It has several inland lakes known for their beauty and natural condition. Most importantly the islands are surrounded by a highly diverse coral reefs that are home to some species of fish seldom found in other parts of the country. They equally support a rich assortment of fisheries that provide the main source of livelihood for residents in the area.
Various human uses are impacting the condition of the marine ecosystems of the Calamianes Islands. There is a high frequency of aquarium fishing, illegal fishing and poaching activities as attested by the interviews with local persons and as observed from the results generated by this research expedition.
Since the 1960s, the mariculture of pearls within the calm water- environment of Calamianes has become a main industry of the area. More recently, dive-tourism as a marine resource use activity is increasing rapidly. In addition, the area is popular for its numerous wreck- dives located in relatively shallow waters.
The abuse of the coastal and marine resources of Calamianes suggest an urgent need for a long- term conservation program to preserve their biodiversity and beauty and to restore these resources in some areas for the benefit of all. The area, although still relatively intact, shows many signs of impact from threats as indicated by the past degradation of reef health and fisheries. The Calamianes group of islands requires an integrated approach to management with participation of collaborators and stakeholders. An integrated plan of action is needed that includes the following recommendations:
- Enhance management efforts of Siete Picados, Sangat-Decalve, and Bugor Marine Sanctuaries;
- More sanctuaries are needed to protect additional reef habitats in this large and heavily fished area;
- An integrated sustainable use management plan for Coron, Busuanga and Culion and networking in management and law enforcement;
- Education and information campaigns for local residents and dive tourists on the proper utilization and protection of marine protected areas;
- Monitoring and evaluation results should be shared with all stakeholders; and
- Do more research in fisheries to be conducted for the benefit of reef management; and
- Continued monitoring for sustained management.