Treasure in the south | SunStar

Treasure in the south

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Treasure in the south

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

BACOLOD. Screenshot from the short documentary films “Atong Bahandi (Our Treasure): Improving Fisheries Management in Southern Negros Island MKBA” on the Usaid-Ecofish Project’s work on developing conservation enterprises with coastal communities, promoting compliance and collaborative enforcement, and the social and ecological networking of marine protected areas. (Contributed photo)

“OUR treasure lies in the Southern Negros Island Marine Key Biodiversity Area.” This is the slogan of the Usaid-Ecofish Project in its work with the coastal communities and local government units of Cauayan, Sipalay, Hinoba-an, Basay, Bayawan, Santa Catalina and Siaton. Ecofish or Ecosystems Improved for Sustainable Fisheries has brought together communities to truly understand what this treasure means, and why and how we care for it.

It is not gold to be mined, nor a chest full of hidden wealth to be discovered. The treasure we need to protect is already around us – it gives us the clean air we breathe, the clean water we drink, and the food that we depend on. If you ask for a picture of what treasure is being meant here – I will show you a photo of a beautiful, almost ancient coral reef like a hill underwater, teeming with wildlife and rich in biodiversity. I could also show you green mountains with rivers emptying out to the sea without trash or pollutant runoffs.

You may also like a picture of an inviting beach, not too crowded, with a dramatic sunset and birds flying by. Or it would also be good to let you enjoy a plate full of organic rice and vegetables, and a sumptuous grilled fish, fresh and sustainably caught. These are our treasures, and they are beyond economic growth or mere money – which fluctuates and oftentimes unevenly distributed, or worse, stolen from us by corruption.

Our treasures sustain life - we partake in this bounty – but if we also do not sustain our treasures, they could easily be used up and our own futures are at stake.

On Thursday, May 4, the Southern Negros Island MKBA Summit in Bayawan will gather seven local governments of South Negros along with Usaid-Ecofish partners, Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), provincial governments of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental, fisheries law enforcement units, and non-government organizations working on sustainable development projects in south Negros such as the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation Inc (PRRCFI) and Alter Trade Foundation Inc. (ATFI), and most importantly, fisherfolk and grassroots community leaders who all have partnered to protect our natural resources and build a sustainable future for the southern coasts of Negros Island.

What’s exciting about this summit is the celebration of sincere and well-founded partnerships and alliances made for coastal resource management and marine conservation. South Negros will never run out of challenges, for sure, and this is why working together is key. Fish populations are in decline, we already know this with science, plus habitats are being continuously threatened: Coral reefs and marine life are threatened by overfishing and climate change, while coasts are also heavily affected by upland deforestation, unsustainable agriculture, trash and sewage mismanagement, and overpopulation. Facing all these issues, we become stronger together. And it’s very inspiring to see partners in South Negros already poised to combat these challenges, with collaborative mechanisms in place.

In the past years, the Usaid-Ecofish Project has worked with partners to implement strategies developed from the Ecosystems Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM), where fisheries and marine resources are sustained by maintaining the health and integrity of ecosystems. This translates to conserving critical habitats by establishing marine protected areas, protecting endangered species, properly managing waste, reducing pollution, and also enforcing environmental laws. The first principle of ecology is that “Everything is inter-connected,” and this is expressed in the work that Usaid-Ecofish has done.

This ecological interconnectedness includes humans, of course.

One strategy the project focused on is connecting about 20 marine protected areas (MPAs) in an MPA Network. Recent scientific research from Dr. Rene Abesamis and colleagues in Silliman University showed larval dispersal happening between MPAs up to 100 kilometers apart. This means protected areas are ecologically connected to each other, and altogether the MPAs are more resilient to climate change-related phenomena such as bleaching, and damage caused by natural disasters. But the best part for me is that the MPA network is not just of ecosystems, but of people as well. MPA networks are social and institutional alliances between communities and governments deciding to unite for one mission: Protecting our marine ecosystems so we have more fish for future generations.

The Summit in Bayawan on Thursday is a milestone and a treasure in itself. The people who will be there represent our hopes, the most simple yet most powerful of which is encapsulated in the words of lawyer Wilmon Peñalosa, head of Negros Occidental’s Provincial Environment Management Office: “The end goal is to make sure no Filipino goes hungry in his own native land. And how do you make sure that you do not go hungry? Where do you see the abundance of resources that you can eat? We have three-fourth of the Earth, which is water. When you manage the resources of the ocean properly, you’ll never go hungry a day in your life.”

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Thanks to my brother Joshua Albao and his colleagues at Peers Creative for working with us on the films to be premiered at the Southern Negros Island MKBA Summit in Bayawan this Thursday.

Published in the SunStar Bacolod newspaper on May 02, 2017.

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