Calamianes Islands, Northern Palawan
Location and Significance. The Calamianes target area covers the four municipalities collectively known as the "Calamianes Group of Islands." The area comprises the northernmost portion of Palawan Province and includes 160 islands with a total land area of 1,600 sq kms (11% of Palawan Province) and 1,088 kms of shoreline. The main islands are Busuanga, Coron, Culion, Calauit and Linapacan.
The islands have a largely transient population, with most migrants coming from the Visayas. Parts of the area are inhabited by indigenous peoples, the Kalamians and Tagbanuas.
Of the four FISH Project target municipalities, three (Busuanga, Coron and Culion) are in the Project's focal area.
The area is endowed with extensive fringing coral reefs, mangrove forests, sandy beaches, geologic shoreline karst and cliff formations, and numerous protected bays and inlets that provide a diverse array of marine and coastal habitats. It represents one of the most biodiverse groups of islands in the Philippines, not only because of its wide range of habitats and resources but also because it interfaces with offshore systems in the South China Sea and northern Sulu Sea (Burke et al 2002). Coral reefs and seagrass beds border virtually all of the islands -- about 70% of coral and seagrass species recorded in the Philippines have been reported in the area. Many of the more protected shorelines have extensive mangrove growth. Sea turtles nest in some protected islands, Dugong reside in several bays, and two species of threatened marine crocodiles have been re-introduced to Calauit. Overall the area has tremendous potential for marine tourism (JICA et al 1996)
Fisheries are primarily reef- and mangrove-dependent and concentrated in nearshore waters, existing primarily for the live fish trade, subsistence, and sale in Luzon markets. Offshore fisheries include small pelagic and squid and cuttlefish, and depend on ocean currents in the South China Sea west of the area.
Status of Coastal Resources. In spite of the relative inaccessibility of the Calamianes, various marine surveys indicate its coral reefs and mangroves are under severe pressure, and that almost all fisheries are nearly overexploited. A survey of some sites in Busuanga in 2002 noted 18-25% live coral cover, 36-53% algae cover, and up 28% dead coral cover -- these are indicators of degradation in an area with historically excellent reefs. In the same survey, only 71 coral species were recorded, belying earlier reports of the area's rich biodiversity (MERF 2002). Illegal fishing using dynamite and cyanide (for the live fish trade) has destroyed much of the reefs except those that are directly adjacent to vigilant resorts or villages that protect their reefs. A coral bleaching event in 1998 also explains some of the dead coral cover. Besides dynamite and cyanide, the presence of hulbot-hulbot (Danish seine) and muro-ami, both of which are illegal and destructive to bottom habitats, has also been reported. Most of these fishing practices were introduced by the many migrants operating in the area.
Reef fish biomass surveys indicated depletion in target species, especially those that are highly sought in the live fish trade, such as grouper and Bumphead wrass (MERF 2002). A FISH Project survey conducted in May 2004 inside and adjacent to three potential marine protected areas in Coron Bay revealed that, although fish biomass remained fairly good at 10.5kg per 500 sq meters and commercially valuable species (target species plus scarids and caesionids) made up a good 57.2% of the total fish biomass, target species abundance was recorded at only 13.4% of fish biomass, and only 1.6% of overall mean fish abundance in the study sites (FISH Project 2005).
Trade in shark fins exists in Culion and other islands, offering prices ranging from Php3,000 to Php8,000 per kg depending on the species. Buyers come mostly from Binondo in Manila and sell the fins in the export market.
Sedimentation caused by runoff from deforested lands poses another significant threat. Upland communities have a long tradition of slash-and-burn farming, and this has resulted in the loss of a good amount of the area's vegetation (MERF 2002).
Law enforcement is hampered by a weak judicial system. Calamianes is served by a judge from Puerto Princesa, who visits the area only three times a year. Few cases prosper because few witnesses and complainants have the time, money and inclination to attend hearings in Puerto Princesa, which is a good one-hour away by air or 12 hours by sea.
Past and Current Initiatives. The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) provides guidance in the management of the live fish trade. The Council requires a permit on all shipments of live fish from Palawan and has authorized the Philippine National Police to monitor compliance. In 2002, alarmed by the persistent use of cyanide among the 1,000 fishers engaged in the live fish trade, the PCSD issued a moratorium on the issuance of permits. But enforcement was weak and the trade continued without much regulation. The moratorium has since been lifted.
In general, the Calamianes Island communities have received little direct assistance for coastal resource management, but important studies have been undertaken that contribute to knowledge about the status of the area's coastal and marine resources. These include "The Study on Environmentally Sustainable Tourism Development Plan for Northern Palawan, Philippines" supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Department of Tourism (JICA et al 1996). The University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute has published studies on the condition of the area's coral reefs and mangroves that date back to the early 1980s. The most recent is cited above (MERF 2002).
Other groups that have been involved in various initiatives in the Calamianes include the Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund, Conservation International, International Marinelife Alliance, PATH Foundation, and the Environmental and Legal Assistance Center with support from Keidanren for Nature Conservation Fund of Japan and the MacArthur Foundation.
In addition, the Tagbanuas are negotiating rights to some of their ancestral lands in Coron under the Indigenous People's Rights Act (RA 8371) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources Administrative Order No. 2 Series of 1993. The terrestrial area under protection includes adjacent marine areas in the northeastern part of Coron that serves as a refuge for large marine animals such as Whale Sharks, Dugong and sea turtles.
Fisheries Improved for Sustainable Harvest (FISH) Project. 2005. Consolidated Report: Baseline Assessment of the Capture Fisheries and Marine Protected Areas (Reef Habitats) in the FISH Project's Focal Areas: Coron Bay, Danajon Bank, Lanuza Bay and Tawi-Tawi Bay. FISH Project of the Department of Agriculture, Cebu City, Philippines. 92 p.
JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) and Department of Tourism. 1996. The Study on Environmentally Sustainable Tourism Development Plan for Northern Palawan, Philippines (Main Text). AMEC Corporation and Pacific Consultants International.
MERF (Marine Environment and Resources Foundation). 2002. Resource and Ecological Habitat Assessment of Island-ecosystems in Northern Palawan, Final Report. The PATH Foundation, Philippines Inc., 117 p.