USLS renews partnership with Bago City to save Irrawaddy dolphins

By University Research Center On Monday, February 26, 2018

The University of St. La Salle renewed collaborations with the local government of Bago City after University President and Chancellor Br. Joaquin Martinez FSC signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Bago City Mayor Nicholas Yulo during the Gawad Bagonhon event held at the Manuel Torres Memorial Coliseum in Bago City yesterday, February 18, 2018. The signing of the MoA was witnessed by University Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research Dr. Romeo Teruel and Bago City Vice Mayor Ramon Torres, who was then sitting as Mayor when engagements between USLS and Bago City for the Irrawaddy dolphins started as early as 2010. 

The Agreement covers joint cooperation in conducting research and livelihood projects with local fisherfolk of Bago City, the direct beneficiaries of the marine protected area which was declared last February 2017. The marine protected area was designed to conserve marine resources, especially the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins, which are known to reside in the coastal waters of Bago City and Pulupandan. The marine protected area was also established through the assistance of USLS, which conducted several researches and trainings with local stakeholders in 2016 through the Protected Areas Management Enhancement (PAME) Program of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the German Development Corporation. The PAME project was the second phase of the University’s engagement on the conservation of the Irrawaddy dolphins, the first part being with Silliman University and Guimaras State College through the ACCCoast Program of GIZ in 2012-2013. 

The Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) are an endangered species of marine mammal known to inhabit isolated estuarine and coastal habitats in the Indo-West Pacific Region. Last December, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lifted the Irrawaddy dolphins’ conservation status from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’. With very few isolated populations left, Irrawaddy dolphins are threatened by human activities in their habitats, especially the potential entanglement in fishing gears, boat strikes, habitat degradation, and marine pollution. In Guimaras Strait, the Irrawaddy dolphins face potential impact of the looming plan to construct a bridge that will connect Negros and Guimaras Islands. The bridge is expected to be cut through the dolphins’ core habitat in Pulupandan. Research conducted by scientists from Silliman University and the University of St. La Salle confirm that the population in Guimaras Strait have declined. The most recent estimate places the population down to less than 20 individuals. 

This year, through a grant awarded by the Commission on Higher Education Discovery and Applied Research (CHED-DARE TO) Program, USLS aims to continue working with the local governments of Bago City and Pulupandan, as well as its stakeholders, in identifying strategies to sustain the marine protected area for and its beneficiaries. The project is multidisciplinary, and involves several components, including water quality monitoring, fisheries monitoring, dolphin ecology, ecotourism potential, livelihood and education campaigns, and impact assessment. The project is expected to run until the second quarter of next year.