Large network of MPAs to enhance conservation in the Verde Island Passage
 
The municipalities of Looc and Lubang in Occidental Mindoro recently approved their respective ordinances establishing a marine management area of more than 14,000 hectares collectively around the Lubang Islands in the Verde Island Passage (VIP) Marine Biodiversity Corridor.

Composed of the stretch of water surrounded by the provinces of Batangas, Occidental and Oriental Mindoro, Romblon and Marinduque, the Verde Island Passage Marine Biodiversity Corridor has been recognized by experts as the “center of the center” of marine shorefish biodiversity in the world. Further studies led by Conservation International (CI) showed that the Looc-Lubang area is one of the areas with the greatest marine conservation potential in the VIP.  The reefs and shallows around the islands showed very high concentrations of fish larvae and eggs, which means that protecting these areas is important in maintaining biodiversity and sustaining the fisheries resources of the entire corridor.

Aside from the high densities of fish larvae and eggs and extensive coral reefs, CI’s studies also showed that the Looc-Lubang area boasts of at least 3 turtle species, 7 species of cetaceans (whales and dolphins), 8 seagrass species, and a rich variety of commercially important fish species.

The Looc-Lubang marine protected areas (MPAs, collective term used for an area of sea set aside by law for a particular protection) are composed of a total of 14,485 hectares scattered across ten sites around the islands, making it the largest marine protected area system in the entire VIP.  The area also hosts the corridor’s largest “no take zone” (NTZ) at 1,150 hectares, while the remaining 13,335 hectares are designated as “fishery reserve areas.”

No take zones are MPAs that are set aside to be protected from all forms of extraction. Fishery reserve areas, on the other hand, are those where only certain fishing methods and gears are allowed. These areas are established in order to protect the marine habitat and enhance fisheries resources.

"The establishment of these marine protected areas represents a huge investment for the future of the millions of people and the coastal communities depending on the rich marine resources of the Verde Island Passage, and we are proud to have been part of this bold step taken by the people of Looc and Lubang municipalities,” said Romeo Trono, Country Executive Director of Conservation International.

In addition, Trono noted that the Lubang-Looc NTZ also carries the distinction of being a “climate-smart” MPA, one that, after specifically being designed to be resilient to climate change impacts (such as increased storm frequency and intensity, and its associated rainfall), is further buffered from anthropogenic stress with responsive governance.  Lubang and Looc stakeholders together with their local leaders are one in this endeavor.

"This is a significant addition to the growing network of MPAs in the Verde Corridor, and we hope that other municipalities in the country will follow suit and take steps to protect their marine resources,” Trono said.

The MPAs are to be jointly managed by the municipalities of Looc and Lubang. Louella de Lara, the Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator (MPDC) of Looc, says that after this establishment, their main concern is the enforcement of policies within and around the MPAs. The continued support and understanding of the locals including outside entities especially on the technical aspects of the management of the MPAs are likewise critical, added Ray Morales (MPDC of Lubang).

These MPAs are also expected to enhance the islands’ tourism potential, since the no take zone is located in front of a stretch of the island’s best.