Members of the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Bago City with Mr. Terence Dacle, GIZ Senior Adviser, and representatives from USLS and the Provincial Environmental Management Office (PEMO) after the third and final reading of the Marine Protected Area Ordinance in Bago City
The Sangguniang Panlungsod of Bago City recently declared the first locally-managed Dolphin Sanctuary in Negros Occidental last February 8, 2017. The Marine Protected Area Ordinance was passed with the objectives of ensuring the sustainability of Bago’s fishery resources, the conservation of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins and their habitats, and the promotion of sustainable ecotourism in the area.
The conservation of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin is one of the flagship programs undertaken by the University of St. La Salle through its University Research Center, which was actively involved in the lobbying for the Ordinance. The URC has been engaging local government officials, fishers, students, and other stakeholders in Bago City and the Municipality of Pulupandan since May 2015, when it initiated the Project entitled “Conservation and management enhancement of Irrawaddy dolphin habitats in Negros Occidental” through the Protected Areas Management Enhancement (PAME) Program of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the German Development Agency Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmBH (GIZ).
The project is considered as the second phase of the research and conservation engagements involving the Irrawaddy dolphins in Guimaras Strait. The first phase was initiated by Silliman University through the DENR-GIZ ACCCoast Program, which USLS was also a part of.
Since the start of the PAME Project in May 2015, the University Research Center conducted several on-the-ground studies led by seasoned researchers in Bago and Pulupandan, focusing on the socio-economic profiling of the coastal area (led by Dr. Marissa Quezon, Anabelle Alova, and Excelsia Parreno), stakeholder analyses (Dr. Virgilio Aguilar and Ariel Bravo), awareness and perception towards marine protected areas (Dr. Romeo Teruel, Dr. Jacqueline Felix, Liza Nismal) training needs assessment (Dr. Rowena Banes, Dr. Ramon Lachica, Lea Reyes), and tourism potential (Dr. Paolo Valladarez). Dolphin researchers (Mark de la Paz and Biology student researchers) were also actively monitoring the dolphin population, studying their behavior, habitat use, and population estimates. Fish catch monitoring led by Jessica Pacalioga and Robert Desusa was also conducted, as well as the identification of viable fishing grounds (Dr. Rose Leonares and Divina Gulayan).
Results of these researches were presented to the local stakeholders in Research Utilization Conferences for each local government unit for further validation. Various trainings and workshops were conducted with identified members of the community to eventually prepare them for the establishment of marine protected areas in their municipal waters. These included trainings on MPA management, local governance, dolphin monitoring, standing response and rescue, and environmental fora.
While the declaration of the marine protected area in Bago City can be heralded as success to end the PAME Project, it is only the start of the challenge to sustain the MPA and enforce its laws. The URC is still continuing its efforts to lobby for a larger MPA in Pulupandan, as it has met opposition from certain stakeholders. Currently, the URC is applying for another grant from CHED to continue Phase 3 of the USLS’ involvement with the Irrawaddy dolphin MPAs.