Malampaya Sound is home to a Critically Endangered subpopulation of Irrawaddy dolphins, discovered to science in the late 1990s by Dr. Louella Dolar and colleagues. The main threat is bycatch in small-scale fishing gear – particularly the matang 4, or a gillnet for crabs, and the ropes of the bokatot alimasag, or crab pots (though bycatch in other gear has also been reported). Small-scale fishing is the main livelihood in this relatively remote site, and therefore, understanding and working with the local coastal communities is the best way to move Irrawaddy dolphin conservation forward.
Malampaya Sound is a semi-enclosed inlet in the northern part of Palawan, Philippines, in the municipality of Taytay. Palawan, called the “Last Frontier” of the Philippines, is a stunning island in the west of the Philippines, with rich natural resources and cultural heritage. Unfortunately, both natural and cultural treasures are threatened by environmental exploitation – including illegal logging, illegal fishing and overfishing, and the looming shadow of potential mining operations.
The “Fish Bowl of the Philippines” is renowned for its productive fishing grounds…but, as I heard several times while I was working there, “It will soon be an empty bowl!” (delivered with characteristic Filipino wry humor in the face of depressing news). The problem? Overfishing.
The promise of a “better life” has wooed many people to migrate from other parts of the country to Palawan, including Malampaya Sound. The result is that new, more effective (too effective?) fishing gear has been introduced to Malampaya with each wave of migration, and that the number of resource users has steadily increased. Commercial fishing is banned in the inner part of the sound (which is also where the dolphins are), but the intensity of small-scale fishing here is staggering. The aforementioned matang 4 and bokatot alimasag are among the most frequently used gears. Small-scale illegal fishing is a big problem, with small trawls operating with impunity.
This is all despite the fact that Malampaya Sound is a nationally-designated Protected Land and Seascape. But, with only three rangers to patrol 200,000 ha of terrestrial and marine habitat, and often with inadequate funding for boat fuel, it’s no surprise that this site is far from being “protected”. This site seems to have “fallen through the cracks” of the various overlapping agencies responsible for its management.
WWF-Philippines has done a lot of work studying the dolphins and working with communities here. They even have a great Irrawaddy dolphin costume (“Waddy”) – a fantastic outreach tool for children. Yet, without serious commitment from the local government to properly enforce fishing regulations and to discourage immigration to Malampaya, the future looks grim for the Fish Bowl – and the people, and dolphins, that live there.
Team Lampasut (2011-2012 Edition) and associated folks in Malampaya Sound:
I conducted fieldwork here in May 2010, August-September 2010, and July 2011-January 2012. I worked closely with WWF-Philippines and the Protected Area Office (PAO) to conduct my work here, with my five field assistants (Eloy, Zion, Tela, Archie, and Ricky) and PAO’s trusty boatman Romeo. My sister also joined our team in December 2011. Our work focused on the seven coastal barangay in the inner sound – Abongan, Alacalian, Banbanan, Bato, New Guinlo, Old Guinlo, and Pancol.