School of Natural and Environmental Sciences


Responding to fish extirpations in the global marine biodiversity epicentre

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.  Building on previous detailed work at two small island sites off Bolinao (Lavides et al. 2010), this project will use surveys of fisherfolk to ascertain what species are vulnerable to fishing and have disappeared under the prevailing high fishing pressure in the Philippines. The study will also use underwater visual surveys to validate fishermen's perceptions of the state of reef fisheries.

The surveys 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 also strengthen resource management capacity,  consider livelihood implications of species losses and input to national and international biodiversity conservation plans.