Off the coast of northern Bohol Island in the Philippines lies 90 miles of coral reefs and seaweed farms, known as Danajon Bank. Seaweed farming is one of the last remaining sources of income for many local communities.
Danajon Bank was once home to one of the most diverse marine life regions in the world. Decades of over fishing, unsafe fishing practices and over development have reduced the aquatic population, and many species are now endangered.
The decline in marine life jeopardizes the local communities that rely on fishing for food and income. Just over half of the fishing in the Philippines occurs along the Danajon Bank.
Project Seahorse, a marine conservation group, is collaborating with the Filipino government and NGOs to restore biodiversity to the Danajon Bank through sustainable aquariums and ecotourism.
In 2013, a team of photographers embarked on a two-week expedition to the Danajon Bank to photograph the ailing reef. The team then showed the photos to political leaders, international organizations and potential funders to campaign for protection against overfishing and destructive fishing techniques. With government support, the reef has begun to replenish its ecosystem, providing a greater food supply for local communities.
As fish populations grow, fisheries are able to capture non-threatened species and trade with other areas to increase diversity and reintroduce endangered species to their old habitats. Creating sustainable aquariums generates profits for the Philippines because the fishermen often earn wages for their efforts.
Furthermore, the restoration of the beauty of the Danajon Bank makes the Philippines a more attractive destination for ecotourists. Tourism in the Philippines has increased 11 percent since 2014. Tourist businesses often hire locals to act as guides, creating jobs and preventing development from encroaching on economy-friendly sites such as the Danajon Bank.
“We see a huge potential, and we think that the development strategies and the natural endowments we have make ecotourism a viable form of tourism the Philippines can concentrate on,” Fernando Roxas, a professor at the Asian Institute of Management, told Yale Insights.
Ecotourism also encourages locals to protect the environment in order to increase profits. Net-Works, a program created by Interface and the Zoological Society of London, employs fishermen to dive and retrieve lost and discarded fishing nets. Nylon fishing nets make up 10 percent of plastic trash in the world’s oceans and pose a serious threat to fish and other aquatic life.
Net-Works ships the nets to a recycling facility in Slovenia, and then to factories in Italy and the U.S. to become carpet tiles. The money from the carpet tiles feeds the fishermen’s paychecks.
Restoring the Danajon Bank’s splendor is not an overnight endeavor. Project Seahorse and the Filipino government must closely monitor the situation to ensure the marine life thrives and fishermen don’t breach policies. However, the immense enthusiasm the Philippines greeted the project with suggests the Danajon Bank is one solution to poverty in the Philippines.