Angele Clark is in San Fernando (Philippines) completing a 6-month SCI CIDA internship posting with focus on community engagement.
One of the main structures upon which the Philippine culture stands is religion and spirituality. The strong belief systems which influence those who practice religion and/or spirituality have an effect on the way natural environments and resources are used.
During my first couple of months living in San Fernando (La Union), The Philippines I have observed instances where beliefs are being used as reasoning for the poaching of sensitive species. My first encounter with this was during World Wetlands Day on February 2nd, 2012. The city government as well as a neighbouring municipality and the national government held a community stakeholders meeting on, and inspection of a pawikan (sea turtle) coastal breeding habitat. Even though the meeting was held in the local language Ilocano, I was given translations by a local not for profit organizer. The people present at this meeting included government officials, not for profit organizations, youth and local fishermen from different generations. A young local fisherman who had found a nest of eggs the previous week and reported it was being questioned about how many eggs he had truly found. Through the series of questions and a number of awkward pauses he admitted he had kept a few of the eggs himself to give to his children because they were sick.
It is very common in the region to believe that certain animal products have medicinal and aphrodisiac properties. This includes sea turtle eggs, balut (matured duck egg/embryo), sea urchin and oysters. In the case of this indicator species, the sea turtle, this belief driven behaviour has become an issue as less sea turtles are laying there eggs along the shoreline and of those laid many are being poached for sale or consumption.
The City of San Fernando through the Environment and Natural Resource Office and the Philippine Department of Natural Resources are conducting IEC (information, education and communication) throughout the coastal barangays (neighbourhoods) where livelihoods depend upon the oceans products and within elementary and high schools where education is being infused with environmental protectionism and sustainability concepts. In the marine protected area of barangay Poro, there is an ongoing livelihood project that supports a fisherman’s cooperative in sustainably breeding and harvesting sea urchins. Before this project, one of the local sea urchin species became extinct in the area and the other species were threatened. Since the inception of the ‘sea urchin grow out culture project’ many sea urchins have successful been harvested and long-term benefits are foreseen by the fisherfolk.
This exact model would of course not be successful for all species/natural products but the true success lies in the adaptation to the culture’s beliefs and therefore desired products, the communication of important concepts such as the relationship between livelihoods and environmental sustainability, and the community based management approach. I believe there will be a decrease in the poaching of sea turtle eggs once an understanding of sustainable resource use becomes more widespread.