Germany has pledged financial support to the Philippines’ conservation initiatives within the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion (SSME), according to Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Paje said a memorandum of understanding was signed on December 10 between the DENR and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ), on behalf of Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, in connection with the grant.
The German government, through the GIZ, has put up a seven million-euro special fund to support the implementation of protection and conservation initiatives within the SSME.
According to the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau, the country will initially get 450,000 euro from the fund.
“The grant will help sustain conservation projects that aim to protect threatened species and habitats within the SSME, as well as the livelihoods of people who depend on them,” Paje said.
The environment chief added that the funding support will also reinforce the country’s capacity to implement the SSME Comprehensive Action Plan, a five-year blueprint whose implementation started in 2012 to ensure the sustainability of fisheries production and marine conservation efforts within the protected seascape.
SSME, an area of about 900,000 square kilometers of aquatic resources, ranks among the most diverse and productive marine systems in the world, and lies at the apex of the Coral Triangle. A large portion of the marine ecosystem is located in the midst of the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.
The seascape is characterized by a tropical climate, tepid waters, and complex and wide-ranging biophysical characteristics and oceanography that contribute to its exceptionally abundant marine biodiversity. It, however, has porous borders acting like a magnet to threats of piracy and illegal fishing, which contribute considerably to its environmental degradation.
Paje said the new pact between the DENR and GIZ “highlights the confidence that other governments have in the Philippines, particularly in our effort to protect and conserve our coastal and marine resources.”
Under the MOU, the German government committed to provide funding support to the DENR for the implementation of various initiatives on marine protected areas (MPAs) within the SSME.
The funds will be used primarily for the establishment of a network-like coordination mechanism among the three SSME states for the Sea Turtle Marine Protected Area Network (ST-MPAN) in order to consolidate cooperation in protecting sea turtles and their habitats.
DENR Undersecretary Annaliza Teh, who signed the MOU on behalf of the department, said government effort to establish more MPAs in the country has gained leverage from the deal.
“Developing a marine protected area to safeguard marine turtles and their habitats is important in implementing an ecosystem approach to fisheries management,” she pointed out.
Four of the 11 important MPAs cited in the MOU as part of the ST-MPAN are in the Philippines, namely: the El Nido Marine Protected Area, the Tubatahha Reefs Natural Parks, and the Balabac Marine Conservation Area in Palawan; and the Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary in Tawi-Tawi.
SSME is among the 200 most critical ecoregions in the world. Studies show that around 40 million people are directly dependent on the region’s marine resources for their economic stability, especially food. Its marine biodiversity includes over 3,000 species of fish, more than 400 species of corals, 400 species of algae, 16 species of seagrass and five of the seven species of marine turtles.
As part of the 640-million hectare Coral Triangle region, SSME’s coral reef ecosystem is said to be a hub of life support for fisheries and provides a potential fish yield of around 675,380 metric tons annually. PNA