Fisheries expert identifies biggest threats to the Coral Triangle

Get to know your fisheries expert: Dr. Annadel Cabanban

We sat down with ecosystem approach to fisheries management specialist, Dr. Annadel Cabanban, after her talk at Ripple: The Ultimate Geography Quest at the University of the Philippines – Diliman. She shared her insights about the Coral Triangle (the global epicentre of marine biodiversity), the greatest challenges faced by the region, and multi-government efforts addressing them.

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Contenders of Ripple: The Ultimate Geography Quest celebrate marine biodiversity with members of the Junior Philippine Geographical Society (JPGS) of the University of the Philippines – Diliman. Photo by JPGS

How did you feel talking about marine biodiversity with young people, perhaps a relatively new audience?

I was a scholar of the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Marine Aquatic Resources Research and Development (PCAMARRD) for my Master Degree in Marine Biology at the University of the Philippines, Diliman in the 1980s.  Back then, my late father proudly introduced me to his friends and colleagues as “Iskolar ng bayan!” (the nation’s scholar). So I was happy to be with today’s “iskolar para sa bayan” (scholars for the nation).

I was also very happy give back to the nation by sharing my knowledge in marine biodiversity and conservation in the Philippines and in the Coral Triangle to young and energetic club members of the UP Geography Club.  They study geography, which includes geology, human geography, society, and many other topics.

In my heart, I had a fervent wish that the students, in one way or another, will value even more our natural wealth.

Green turtle hatchling crawls towards the sea at Baguan Island, Turtle Island Wildlife Sanctuary, Philippines. Photo by Aman Santos/CTI-SEA

We’d like to know more about the marine world and the Coral Triangle. Can you tell us a bit about your talk?

My talk introduced three things – the richness of the marine species and ecosystems in the Philippines; the impact of poor management of socio-economic activities to our coastal and marine resources; and the action of Philippine government to conserve marine biodiversity in the Philippines and in the region.

Some examples of marine diversity are:  46 species in mangrove forests; 18 species of seagrasses; 893 species of algae (marine plants); 80 to 85 species of cowrie shell; and around 600 species of corals.

The Philippines is at the apex of the Coral Triangle – the area where there are 550 to 600 species of corals.   The Coral Triangle spans from the north, in the Philippines, south to Timor Leste,  and eastward to the Solomon Islands.  

That’s really huge.  What do you suppose is the biggest threat to the country’s marine biodiversity at the moment?

Socio-economic activities, such as farming on land, fishing, or culturing, are important for our well-being but if these are not managed well, they can have negative environmental impacts.

For example, if fishing in an area uses destructive gears, it will destroy the habitat where fish live.  If fishing is excessive, fish populations will decrease and we might have less fish tomorrow.

What strategy do you recommend to address these threats?

Resource managers will have to address the impact of the driver (economic activities), pressure (the intensity of the driver on the environment), and the status of the environment to ensure that our coastal and marine ecosystems will continue to provide the services to us human beings.

At present, how are our leaders addressing these issues?

The Philippine government has been participating in two regional efforts to conserve our marine biodiversity.  The government signed and ratified the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion (SSME) Conservation Plan with Indonesia and Malaysia.  This plan was for SSME to maintain the marine biodiversity, to continue enjoying its productivity, and to promote collaborative and participatory management.  The Memorandum of Understanding expired this year but efforts are underway in another forum to continue activities and programs to achieve the vision.

Leaders of Coral Triangle countries, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Timor-Leste, and the Solomon Islands during the Senior Officials Meeting. Photo by DENR-BMB

Can you tell us about other efforts to save the Coral Triangle?

The other regional program that the Philippines is participating in is the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security or CTI-CFF.

It has 5 Goals that will conserve marine biodiversity.  Effective management of seascapes, which is Goal 1, and creating marine protected areas, which is Goal 2, will conserve marine species and populations.

The Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries management (EAFM), which is Goal 3, will manage fisheries within the context of the ecosystem and the society, which is consistent with sustainable development principles, and which will prevent the loss of targeted food species.

Taking necessary actions, such as those mentioned above, will improve the status of threatened species such that they will no longer be considered “threatened” by global experts, that’s Goal 5.

Moreover, protecting ecosystems is good for coastal and marine diversity, protection for storms, food production, and sustainable livelihood and, as such, is an important aspect in adaptation to climate variability and change, and that’s Goal 4.


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CTI-Southeast Asia’s Angelo Jose Lumba and Dr. Annadel Cabanban receive certificates from the Junior Geographical Society of the Philippines. Photo by JPGS

What can you say about the students’ interest in marine biodiversity?

I was pleased that two club members know a commercially-important coral reef fish (lapu-lapu or the coral trout) and the location of a priority conservation area in the Philippine internal seas (Tanon Strait)!  For these, we gave them prizes!

After the event, David Blancada, President of the Junior Philippine Geographical Society of sent me an email that went, “We learned a lot of marine biodiversity and what CTI does in the region! We look forward to working with you again!” This was heart-warming.


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Dr. Annadel Cabanban has more than 20 years of experience in and has written 43 publications on marine biodiversity, integrated coastal zoning, marine and terrestrial ecology, and community-based management and fisheries management. She has served in several countries in the ASEAN and the Asia-Pacific region including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines.  Dr. Cabanban has a doctorate and Master’s degree in Marine Biology from James Cook University of North Queensland and University of the Philippines Diliman. Right now, she works with CTI –Southeast Asia as international Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM) specialist.



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