Teams trained through the Malampaya Foundation monitor the health of coral reefs
Teams trained through the Malampaya Foundation monitor the health of coral reefs

The Malampaya Deep Water Gas-to-Power project off the coast of Palawan in the Philippines operates in one of the most biologically-diverse areas of the world. It is known as the Coral Triangle.

This region, which stretches from the Philippines to New Guinea, is home to more fish and coral species than anywhere else on the planet.

But these are under threat.

Natural phenomena such as storms can destroy the corals. At the same time, increasing urbanisation in coastal areas and poor waste practices compound pollution and can lead to the harmful build-up of silt. One of the biggest threats to the coral is over-fishing and illegal fishing through methods involving dynamite and cyanide.

Now a programme founded and implemented by the Malampaya Foundation, of which Shell Philippines Exploration (SPEX) B.V. is a member, is helping local communities to conserve and manage local marine resources, while simultaneously enhancing livelihoods. This is known as an integrated ‘ecosystem services’ approach.

Setting aside areas for protection and rehabilitation

Working with communities, local governments and agencies, the Foundation has helped to establish and strengthen the management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), which communities help to enforce and protect. Some fishing areas, for example, are now set aside as protected areas where fishing is prohibited to help rehabilitate habitats and regenerate fish stocks. Fishermen can still operate in other areas but on a restricted basis and under the careful monitoring of a group in the village.  

The marine environment is regularly monitored and “reef watch teams” monitor the health of coral reefs. These teams include local fishermen and other villagers who have been trained through the Foundation as licensed scuba divers and reef checkers. They monitor new coral nurseries, where rescued coral fragments have been moved to elevated nursery beds to help them recover.

Nonetheless, many challenges confront the programme such as continuing encroachment and illegal activities.

Providing alternative livelihoods

With restrictions on fishing, the Foundation is helping local communities identify and adopt alternative livelihoods and sources of income.

Coastal communities are recipients of community-based skills training in different trades to help spur employment and self-employment.

Families are also boosting their income through improved animal husbandry skills and livestock raising. For decades they were raising pigs, chickens and goats using traditional methods. Now through the foundation they have learned environment-friendly and more profitable ways to do so. Wives of fishermen and other women in the community have received training in areas such as sewing, food processing as well as other grooming and wellness skills.

people linking hands at conservation agreement signing Malampaya
The signing of a conservation agreement in Tatay, Palawan

A partnership with the community

A community-based approach is key to the success of the Foundation’s work, says Karen Agabin, Executive Director of the Malampaya Foundation:  

“The programme is designed in such a way that it targets the core threats to the ecosystem: from lack of management and resources, limited enforcement, lack of knowledge, monitoring and data, poverty, limited waste management, as well as other threats. 

"The four major keystones of the programme are complex and comprehensive and will not work without one another. Working, living and planning with the communities is the proper, though difficult, approach to ensuring an effective conservation programme”.

Conservation agreements, which are a legal tool, are signed by local government officials and other government agencies to collectively support conservation goals and enable exhausted resources to recover.  

Sankie Simbulan, Social Performance Manager, SPEX B.V. says:

Shell’s aim is to work responsibly, protecting the marine environment and the well-being of the communities who rely on it.

“Our work with the Malampaya Foundation contributes to long-lasting benefits not only to the impacted communities but also to the country as a whole by helping to restore the marine ecosystems which are a source of food and livelihood for many Filipinos.”

Visit Malampaya Foundation to learn more about the programme and meet Jun, one of the local fishermen who is now part of a community reef team.

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