When Fishers Take Ownership of Dugong Conservation

BUSUANGA, PALAWAN — A recently launched project is making fishing communities of six barangays in Busuanga Municipality play an active role in protecting and conserving the rare dugong, a threatened marine mammal that still lives in waters of Busuanga. In partnership with the coastal communities, the Dugong-Fisher Project is spearheaded by Community Centred Conservation (C3) Philippines and is the latest initiative of the organization as it pursues its mandate of developing biodiversity conservation efforts in the country.

The Dugong-Fisher Project is participated in by the six coastal barangays of Buluang, Cheey, Maglalambay, New Quezon, Panlaitan and San Isidro (see map). Village fishers who, upon going out to sea, are made to report on any dugongs they might encounter while fishing. They return to shore and report sightings to local leaders where information such as time of sighting, location, animal size, individual numbers and the presence of calves are collected. The local leaders then proceed to a huge village sighting map where sightings are marked for all community members to see. This provides the community with a strong sense of ownership in the conservation effort. The data is then collected by C3 staff who visit the villages on a monthly basis and the information is used to help identify dugong ‘hotspots’ in the municipality.

Listed as vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the dugong is considered by many local experts to be already critically endangered in the Philippines. Fishing practices such as corral fishing, combined with the degradation of seagrass beds have all contributed to the reduction of dugong populations in the country.

“This project is a classic example of the effective use of local knowledge,” said Leo Cayaban, Programme Coordinator for C3 Philippines and they key person in charge of the organization’s activities in the country. “These fishers have lived here for most of their lives and more often than not, if anyone does make a dugong sighting, it would be by someone who was out at sea… fishing.”

Community consultations, training,  map design and installation were conducted during the first quarter of the year with the last monitoring map being installed in the relatively isolated island Barangay of Maglalambay on 8 May 2013. Already data have started to flow in from the participating communities and it is hoped that as more data is collected, the municipality will be able to identify and prioritize the most important sites for dugong conservation and develop conservation measures including protected areas to ensure that the elusive animal persists in the waters of Busuanga.