MPA Perspective: Paper Parks in the Philippines: Improved Information Tells a New Story

MPA News

Editor's note: Alan White is president of Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation, a Philippine NGO, and Anna Meneses is coordinator of the organization's Marine Protected Area Project, described in the following essay. The project is supported by the Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation (an initiative of the Pew Institute for Ocean Science) as well as the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, (US) National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency, and the Fisheries Improved for Sustainable Harvest Project of the United States Agency for International Development (implemented by Tetra Tech EM Inc. in the Philippines).

By Alan T. White and Anna Blesilda T. Meneses

Since the 1970s, more than 600 MPAs have been designated throughout the Philippines. Past studies on the effectiveness of these sites have suggested that many were failing to achieve their goals. One figure in particular - that less than 20% of Philippine MPAs are fully enforced - has been cited widely as evidence of an epidemic of "paper parks" in the Philippines.

However, new monitoring research on MPAs nationwide indicates that the percentage of ineffective sites in the Philippines is actually lower than that figure. In fact, there appears to be a trend underway toward effective MPA management in the country.

The new findings come from the Marine Protected Area Project (MPA Project), launched in 2001 by the Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation, or CCE Foundation, a Philippine conservation NGO. With a goal to help increase the number of functional MPAs in the Philippines, the project provides a framework to monitor and evaluate MPAs based on several specific and standardized indicators of success, related to such factors as implementation of management programs and public compliance. This framework, embodied in the project's MPA Database and Rating System, promotes good governance, collaborative effort, and better understanding of the functions and benefits of MPAs ("Rating system available for MPA management in Philippines", MPA News 6:3).

Following an initial pilot test of the system in 16 MPAs, it has been applied to 360 MPAs throughout the Philippines, in collaboration with national government agencies, NGOs, academic institutions, and development projects in the field of coastal resource management.

The great majority of these sites (93%) are small MPAs designated by municipal or city governments; the others are larger sites designated by the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Management systems vary from site to site, including management by local governments, local people's organizations, NGOs, multi-sectoral boards, and/or dive resort operators.

The project rates MPAs based on a five-level scheme:

Level 1: Initiated phase - MPA has been initiated but no management activities have begun
Level 2: Established phase - MPA is legalized and management has begun, but no enforcement is underway
Level 3: Enforced phase - MPA regulations are implemented and enforced, and management activities are maintained for two years or more
Level 4: Sustained phase - MPA is well-enforced over the years, and participation/support from local government and community is consistent
Level 5: Institutionalized phase - MPA management and enforcement are consistently maintained and assured by additional legal support

Percentage of non-enforced MPAs

Since 2001, 61% of the MPAs assessed using this rating system were at Level 1 (20%) or Level 2 (41%), meaning no enforcement activity was yet occurring. Although this figure is still unacceptably high, it is significantly below the commonly cited 80% figure for paper parks in the Philippines. Furthermore, the sites that were enforced, sustained and/or institutionalized accounted for more than one-third of all Philippine MPAs assessed: 29% were at Level 3; 6% were Level 4; and 2% were Level 5.

The fact that most MPAs have some degree of management in place (Levels 2-5), and that the average degree of management is somewhat better than expected, reflects a very positive trend in the management of MPAs in the Philippines. We believe this can be attributed to the increasing number of capable local governments and communities, and the increasing use of monitoring and evaluation.

As observed by the project, the challenge for many sites lies in sustaining management operations after the establishment phase. In some cases, especially for older MPAs (more than 10 years old), enforcement activities and program implementation tends to become sporadic and inconsistent. MPAs have difficulty in sustaining management efforts due to the lack of technical support, insufficient budget, and weak law enforcement.

A few key lessons from the project:

  • The database and rating system helps communities and local governments to gauge their management efforts and what is needed to improve management effectiveness.
  • A stable source of financing and strong political support and partnership with key government agencies to enforce the law are essential for well-managed MPAs.
  • Local government capacity and empowered communities ensure longer term and stable management.
  • Having a management plan builds sustainability when coupled with regular monitoring and evaluation to provide focus on the desired goals for the MPA.
  • The database and information system puts in perspective - for all involved, from field level to national government - what is being accomplished and what to focus on next; it also determines which MPAs should be undesignated due to ineffectiveness.

For more information

Alan T. White and Anna Blesilda T. Meneses, Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation, Inc., 302 PDI Condominium, Archbishop Reyes Avenue, Banilad, Cebu City 6000, Philippines. Tel: +63 32 2336909; E-mail: ccef-mpa [at] mozcom.com or alanwhite1 [at] verizon.net; Web: www.coast.ph