Darwin Initiative

Project Name

Responding to fish extirpations in the global marine biodiversity epicentre





Project Collaborators

School of Marine Science and Technology 
Prof. Nick Polunin 
Prof. Selina Stead

Dr Margarita Lavides, Ateneo De Manila University

Haribon Foundation 


Darwin initiative (Defra)

Project Description


The Philippines lies in the global marine biodiversity epicentre, coral reefs are the most biodiverse marine ecosystem (e.g. 50% marine fish species in <0.01% of ocean area), and the ecological footprint of Philippines reef fishing is the fourth highest among island nations, yet the implications
of this intensive use for marine biodiversity are scarcely known. Philippine marine fisheries landings are declining but the trajectories of even the most vulnerable species are scarcely known because landings data alone are insufficient in detail and time span to explore possible extinctions.

Which species are being lost and where, and reference points for possible future recovery are unclear. Threatened also by other anthropogenic and related impacts (e.g. blast fishing, climate related coral bleaching), this internationally important biodiversity is very vulnerable, together with the environmental services (e.g. nutrition, poverty alleviation) which it delivers. Fish local extinctions have been detected in pilot studies off Bohol Island by the principal partners (Lavides et al. 2010) and these ideas need urgently to be tested more widely in the country. Only fishers’ knowledge can now possibly access a 40-50 year time span and the ca. 3000 reef fish species involved, but time is running out if knowledge of the 1940s and 1950s is to be confidently captured.

Gathering this knowledge has the added benefit of furthering understanding, collaboration and trust between scientists, NGOs and the fishing communities involved. Hence, the Bohol pilot fishers’ knowledge surveys (Lavides et al. 2010) will be rolled out to five key marine biodiversity areas of the country, including Verde Island Passage (reputed world epicentre of shorefish diversity), Palawan, the Pollilio Group of Islands, Danajon Bank and Lanuza Bay.

The project will:

1) Determine which fish species are threatened at the five locations, through capturing fishers’ knowledge and well-replicated underwater survey.
2) Ascertain temporal abundance trends of fish species and groups and see how these trends vary among the five areas using fishers’ retrospective knowledge of abundances on decadal scales.
3) Strengthen capacity in resource management in Lanuza Bay through training and work among local government units (Lanuza Bay Development Alliance) and fisherfolk organisations (Namanaka).
4) Reconcile conservation needs with sustainable livelihoods in Lanuza Bay through building on existing projects in which stakeholders and local partners have fully participated 
5) Make policy recommendations at local, national and international levels. Lessons pooled from the site conservation and threatened species work will be used to inform local, national and international conservation plans.