The Siete Pecados, or “Seven Sins,” are seven islets in the Philippines named after a legend about seven sisters who drowned after they disobeyed their mother. Siete Pecados Marine Park is a story of a coastal community’s persistence, in partnership with USAID and other partners, to establish a marine protected area with an integrated approach that includes biodiversity conservation, climate resilience, and economic growth. Over time, the initiative grew from a local community effort to restore their fisheries and generate income into a cross-sectoral USAID activity that has improved marine biodiversity, restored fisheries stocks, enhanced climate resilience, and generated income for local communities and revenue for local government.
In the 1980s, dynamite fishing was rampant in Siete Pecados, negatively impacting its coral reefs and fish stocks. In the early 2000s, a fisher named Jose Mazo initiated community meetings with the hope of reversing the area’s decline. As community members realized they shared a common aspiration to restore Siete Pecados, they asked for the support of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center and other non-governmental organizations to establish a marine park. The Environmental Legal Assistance Center and others helped the community to inventory and monitor the marine area, increase enforcement actions, and enhance the visibility and support for their efforts with the local and regional government. In 2005, the municipal government enacted an ordinance creating the 52-hectare Siete Pecados Marine Park and formalizing its management.
Benefiting Biodiversity, Climate Resilience, Local Livelihoods and Economic Growth
The technical assistance from USAID helped advance the community’s efforts to strengthen the management of the new marine protected area through the Fisheries Improved for Sustainable Harvest (FISH, 2003–2010) activity. FISH provided capacity building assistance related to marine conservation and introduced population, health, and environment components. These efforts generated ecological and economic results in the same location as health interventions. In addition, the engagement with FISH helped the communities to expand their networks to include tourism industry players like the local tour operators who joined the marine protected area management planning process.
Establishing the marine park resulted in benefits for biodiversity, climate resilience, and local livelihoods and economic growth. Improved management contributed to enhanced biodiversity and marine resources: coral cover, fish biomass, and species richness all increased. Monitoring by USAID’s implementing partners also shows that protection efforts increased coral resilience, decreasing their sensitivity to warming and facilitating recovery. When Typhoon Haiyan struck the Calamianes Island Group in 2013, the typhoon’s impact on residents in the Siete Pecados area was less severe than on the other coastal communities, underscoring the benefits of ecosystem-based coastal management in disaster risk reduction.
Cumulative efforts in this area have also improved the livelihoods of fishing communities and contributed to the local economy. Tourist user fees have generated significant revenue for community members who work as guides, area managers, and patrollers. Incomes from tourism and fishing have increased, and fishers have reported an average daily fish catch of 10 kilograms, almost triple the national average of 3.5 kilograms for small-scale fishers. In 2015, the local government’s income from Siete Pecados tourist user fees reached more than one million pesos per year.
Support for a Wider Marine Network
Currently, the USAID Fish Right activity, which is implemented by the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center, the PATH Foundation, and other partners, continues to advance integrated approaches in Siete Pecados by supporting the area as part of a wider marine protected area network. Fish Right uses ecological design principles to address biodiversity conservation, sustainable fisheries management, and adaptation to climate variabilities, with the broader aim of developing resilient marine reserves and ensuring sustainable livelihoods. To provide a wider range of benefits to a greater number of people, the marine protected area is now being expanded to an additional 103 hectares. Fish Right is providing technical assistance in support of the community’s decision.
Fish Right determines benefits across sectors through the Marine Protected Area Effectiveness Assessment Tool, which measures both biophysical and social factors, and has incorporated population, health, and environment approaches as an addendum to the tool to assess integration across the population, health, and environment sectors. In addition, Fish Right measures integration through an ecosystem approach to fisheries management governance benchmarking tool that several USAID marine activities employ.
Support local champions to initiate and lead community-led conservation initiatives.
- Empower local communities to drive marine restoration efforts and demonstrate long-term commitment and local ownership.
Identify stakeholder interests to generate widespread support.
- Illustrate the benefits of improving fish stocks in various ways to address different needs and priorities. Connect improved biodiversity to livelihoods and climate resilience for local communities. Show the local government the benefits of a marine protected area for conserving biodiversity and addressing climate resilience. Emphasize the importance of a well-managed marine protected area where healthy coral reefs and abundant marine life can attract tourists to engage tour operators.
- Explore more case studies on the USAID Biodiversity Integration Case Competition website.
- Learn more about biodiversity integration with other USAID technical sectors on the Biodiversity Conservation Gateway.
- For more information on USAID/Philippines’s work on biodiversity conservation and sustainable fisheries management, please visit their website.
Rebecca Guieb, Development Specialist, USAID/Philippines
Rguieb (at) usaid (dot) gov
This blog was originally published as part of the USAID Biodiversity Integration Case Studies.
USAID Biodiversity Integration Case Studies
This 15-case collection illustrates how biodiversity conservation is critically linked to the journey to self-reliance and helps deliver development results.