Partially protected marine areas as a conservation tool for commercially important fishes in the Philippines: Do age, size, and design matter?
In the Philippines, partially protected marine areas known as marine reserves are promoted extensively as conservation strategies for reef fishery resources. This type of marine protected area (MPA) allows traditional fishing to a certain extent. At present, 90% of the total area of the MPAs in the Philippines is considered partially protected, but their effectiveness in terms of conservation has received little attention. Thus, we evaluated the potential effectiveness of conservation in partially protected areas by comparing the species richness and abundance of commercially important fishes with those in fully protected and adjacent open fishing areas using underwater visual belt transect survey in four MPAs with diverse features (age, size, design, and fishing activity) in the Bicol region, northeastern Philippines. Fishing activities in partially protected and open fishing areas were also investigated in the four MPA sites through interviews of local fishermen. The species richness and abundance of fishery target sized fishes were significantly higher in fully protected areas compared with those in partially protected and open fishing areas in the four MPA sites. Similarly, species richness and abundance in partially protected areas were significantly higher than open fishing areas in large and conventionally designed MPAs, but there were no differences in small and non-conventional MPAs. The species richness and abundance of fishery non-target sized fish did not differ significantly among the three zones in each MPA. There were also no significant differences in the fishing indices (e.g., fishing time and gears) for partially protected and open fishing areas in each MPA site, thereby suggesting that large MPAs with conventionally designed partially protected areas could reduce the fishing pressure and/or increase fish movements from fully protected area.