How Do You Protect Over 1M Hectares of Marine Lives? She Could

In Ocean
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Mavic Matillano, the Project Manager for Improved Fisheries in Palawan for WWF-Philippines, discusses how it is like to work with community members on the ground. “They are more creative, more clever!”

Mavic on the job: checking her Irrawaddy dolphin photo ID pictures in Palawan, Philippines.
© Jürgen Freund / WWF

An official agreement signed by six municipalities on Oct 2017 in Northern Palawan, Philippines has started the work for another million-hectare Marine Protected Area (MPA).

Together with WWF-Philippines, Mavic worked on the ground at all levels, from hook-and-line fishermen to village officials and mayors. The best part: people no longer complain about why they can no longer fish from some areas. They’ve already tasted and seen of the benefits.

This particular climb was part of the assessment for the probability of incorporating tourism development to the management of Cambari Island as no-fishing area.

Here, Mavic Martillano discusses more about her important work in protecting these marine protected areas.

Tell us more about the work you do in WWF.

Mavic doing an assessment of one the underground pools in Cambari Island, a proposed premium tourist destination in Araceli.

We spend most of our time out of the office. During the rainy season, it’s mostly workshops and meetings with project partners and communities. In these sessions, we work on proposed policies and strategies to institutionalise our objectives and goals. During the dry season, it would entail a whole day of field work either for habitat assessments and research, or going out to schools and villages for policy advocacy and information campaigns.

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What do you think is the most challenging part of your job?

Mobility and access to project sites as some of our target areas takes one to two days to reach. It’s a one million hectare coastal and marine area with over 120 islands and islets, and at least 50 fishing villages.

For Mavic, the most challenging part of her job is mobility and access to project sites as there are 120+ islands and islets and at least 50 fishing villages.
© Jürgen Freund / WWF

We strictly apply a bottom-to-top approach which prioritises the concerns and issues of stakeholders at the grassroots level. We always make sure that the communities are not only involved in policy and decision-making, but also in community-based research.

How about the most rewarding part of the job?

Two fishermen in Araceli with a day’s catch of flying fishes.

Seeing the project objectives slowly taking shape. Being able to land in one island village and not be looked-at with curiosity nor animosity. Being able to talk to a fisherman’s wife and hear her discuss her day and her children and her fisherman husband’s catch the previous night.

What does success look like when you first took on the job, now and the future?

In the beginning, it was just being able to deliver the 500,000 hectares of Marine Protected Area (MPA). Now, we have gone beyond the numbers and focusing more on how will the community sustain the management of one million hectares of MPA on their own.

What is it like to work with the hook-and-line fishermen? Has it become easier – now that the local communities are ready to be on board?

There are still challenges. The local perspectives can still be easily swayed by local politics and economic developments or changes.

What is the one thing people don’t know about working on the ground?

It’s a never-ending job of learning and there’s more to learn working on the ground, dealing with the community (think owner of the biggest store in the village, wealthiest in a clan, or rice field owner). They are more creative, and smarter.

What is the next big thing you are looking forward to?

Incorporating solid waste management to MPA management since it’s not only overfishing that threatens fisheries sustainability but the overall quality of habitat as well.

Working on the ground, what is the best way for Singapore to help in preventing overfishing?

Supporting the operationalisation of large Marine Protected Area (MPA) as studies have shown that the larger the protected area (where fishermen can’t fish from), the more effective it is for conservation.

Less than 4 per cent of the ocean is protected. As part of our ongoing efforts to ensure sustainable seafood and fishing practices, WWF-Singapore has been supporting the Marine Protected Area (MPA) for Improved Fisheries in Palawan, Philippines project since 2016. This is critical in safeguarding priority habitats like the Coral Triangle.

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