Family-Protected Coral Reef: A Unique Case of Conservation of Natural Resources

Family protection of coral reef can be a good strategy to conserve natural resources.

Conservation of Natural Resources

Conservation of natural resources evolved from state controlled or the so-called Regalian doctrine approach in the early history of human civilization. As many governments (especially in an archipelago or countries composed of many islands) could not manage all areas under its jurisdiction effectively, decentralization of power and authority appears to be the only viable option to consider. Community-based management or co-management schemes of natural resources management were born. People in the community were given more power and a sense of ownership over their natural resources. Conservation of natural resources is carried out by actively involving the community in all the processes and functions of management, i.e., from planning up to the implementation of conservation projects. 

Decades of Aggressive Resource Management Campaign

During the past two decades In the Philippines, aggressive campaigns for conservation of natural resources by many sectors to promote sustainable development principles led to many success stories. These are in the form of environmental advocacy and training on the systematic ways of assessing natural resources for management purposes. 

One of the participants of such training on the conservation of natural resources by non-government and government organizations is a family of migrant fishers living in Snake Island in Honda Bay, Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines. The family occupied a portion of the island for almost two decades, a time when rampant illegal fishing is at its peak and where conservation programs were actively pursued to counteract the effects of resource degradation. As an offshoot of their participation in the various training conducted by conservation organizations, the family decided to personally and voluntarily protect the patches of reef in front of their house on stilts, its floor barely touching  the sea water at high tide.

house on stilts picture

The house of the migrant fishers, supported by stilts piled on a sandbar, at high tide.

No fishers were allowed by the family to fish and do illegal activities in the once highly fished and damaged reef in front of the family's home for almost two decades. Even members of the family were not allowed to fish in the area. The family took it upon themselves to protect the reef without any legal mandate or any form of remuneration from any agency or organization. 

The result of family protection of coral reef is a coral reef that bounced back to life and became a haven for different kinds of coral reef fish. New coral colonies started to regrow on previously damaged corals. Fish productivity also improved as evidenced by increased fish catch in the family-owned stationary lift net just a few hundred meters away from their home. They can haul over 200 kilograms of anchovies overnight. That translates to high earnings enough to sustain the family for a long time. 

coral reef picture

New coral reef colony grows over a degraded one in the family protected reef.

This case just shows that if people undertake steps for the conservation of natural resources collectively, the benefits will accrue to everyone in the long run. Being mindful of the importance of keeping natural resources intact and harvesting the products without destroying the source can assure everyone of enough food on the table. But many people still do not subscribe to this noble obligation. The trend of fishery productivity all over Asia, and the world for that matter, is going down. The future, in many areas of the country and other countries plagued by illegal fishing and overfishing, remains bleak. Greedy individuals want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

But this family did something significant to the coral reef, demonstrating that with proper enforcement of existing laws coupled with care for natural resources, it is possible to conserve a gradually declining resource.

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Louie Jerome
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Posted on Mar 18, 2010