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Expanding Philippine MPA Networks through Systematic Conservation Planning


Establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), or sea areas fully or partially protected from extractive human activities, is by far the most widely implemented strategy for biodiversity conservation and fisheries enhancement in the Philippines, where almost 1800 MPAs have been established since the 1980s. To further protect populations and habitats within MPAs, there is a growing advocacy to create MPA networks (MPAN). MPANs are systems of ecologically-connected and socially-accepted MPAs that contribute to the achievement of conservation goals such as conserving biodiversity, enhancing fisheries, and adapting to climate change.

The USAID Fish Right Program aims to influence reforms within the Philippine fisheries sector by improving fisheries management effectiveness, with targeted outcomes of increased fish biomass and reduced threats to biodiversity. As a collaborator, the Marine Environment and Resources Foundation (MERF) developed a framework for designing MPA networks for the three sites prioritized by Fish Right: Calamianes Island Group, Visayan Sea, and Southern Negros.

MPA Networks within these priority sites were designed using Systematic Conservation Planning (SCP). SCP is a spatially-explicit framework for designing and locating actions that promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of natural resources to help preserve ecosystem function and support human activities. It is a regional planning approach, where decisions and actions are based on a broad spatial perspective. Several in-person and online workshops were held across the three sites from July 2019 to June 2022. Experiences and stakeholder inputs from these workshops were used to draft a written guide on SCP in the Philippine context, finalized and made available to project sites last August 2023.

The guide for adopting the Systematic Conservation Planning framework to design Marine Protected Area Networks in the Philippines is designed for inter-local government unit (LGU) alliance members or neighboring LGUs that are interested in working together to design marine protected area networks. It describes and summarizes the four major steps for adopting the SCP framework using a participatory approach appropriate for the Philippine context. It also outlines the skill sets required of the planning team to successfully create an MPAN design, and provides alternative approaches in the design process based on available human and financial resources of the alliance or LGU.

This guide will serve as an initial step in documenting local experience in designing MPA Networks in the Philippines. MERF and USAID worked with project site partners namely: Path Foundation Philippines, Inc (PFPI), Culion Foundation Inc. (CFI), and Community-Centered Conservation (C3) Philippines for CIG, Southern Negros Coastal Development Management Council (SNCDMC) for Southern Negros, and the Northern Iloilo Alliance for Development (NIAD) for Visayan Sea.

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