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Photo by Sulubaaï Foundation
Photo by Sulubaaï Foundation

Protecting Rich Biodiversity

Shark Fin Bay in northern Palawan, Philippines is home to rich tropical coral reefs, seagrass meadows, and mangrove forests. These biodiverse ecosystems provide habitat for threated species like the humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus), squaretail coralgrouper (Plectropomus areolatus), hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), and green turtle (Chelonia mydas). These ecosystems were degraded in the past by destructive and unsustainable fishing practices. However, the local communities that rely on these ecosystems for their subsistence and livelihoods, have created a network of MPAs to revitalize them.

The Shark Fin Bay MPA Network includes four multi-use MPAs, covering 7.6 km2. Each MPA has a core fully protected zone and surrounding 50 m buffer zone, with an additional 500 m radius zone prohibiting fish traps (baklad) and fish aggregating devices (payao, also known as FADs) ensuring equitable small-scale fishing access to fish spillover from the fully protected zone.

Photo by Sulubaaï Foundation
Photo by Sulubaaï Foundation

The Vital Role of the Local Communities

The local communities of Shark Fin Bay have played a central role in the MPA network. The Shark Fin Bay MPA Network Management Council includes representation from the local community governments, fisherfolk associations, and local schoolteachers. Many of these representatives also participate in the network’s citizen-science monitoring program. The Sea Academy Project assesses local perceptions of MPA management, fishing, and livelihoods to guide the focus of future research projects. This project also includes employment programs, educational outreach, revenue sharing agreements, and alternative livelihood projects.

These initiatives have empowered, and will continue to empower, the communities of Shark Fin Bay to manage the resources to which their lives are so intricately wedded into the future. The Marine Conservation Institute is excited to support the conservation efforts of the Shark Fin Bay communities through a collaboration with the Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation.

Photo by Corinne Bourbeillon
Photo by Corinne Bourbeillon

The Creation of an MPA Network

Work to restore Shark Fin Bay’s ecosystems began in 2011 when the Filipino-French NGO Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation purchased Pangatalan Island in Shark Fin Bay with the objective of rehabilitating this heavily exploited site. With the engagement of local governments, Pangatalan Island became the first designated MPA of Shark Fin Bay. Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation continues to manage this site, pioneer innovative coral restoration strategies, and run the Shark Fin Bay Environmental Research Centre to facilitate scientific research related to conservation.

Pangatalan Island MPA soon boasted 39% higher density, 167% higher biomass, and 25% greater size of target fish compared to unprotected control sites. Following this success, nearby communities resolved to create their own MPAs in Shark Fin Bay. Between 2019 and 2021, the coastal towns of Depla, Sandoval, and Silanga initiated community consultations and designated new MPAs. In 2022, Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation, through the Sea Academy Project, supported a collaborative approach to conservation throughout the bay, and the Shark Fin Bay MPA Network was designated by Municipal Ordinance.

Photo by Sulubaaï Foundation
Photo by Sulubaaï Foundation