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Benefits of Marine Protected Areas

By Marla Lise

Marla is an ocean lover with a passion for marine conservation 

Photo: Screengrab from CNA video

Singapore’s Sisters' Islands Marine Park

Singapore and Marine Park are not really words that you would imagine seeing together, but it’s true that our shores house a Marine Protected Area (MPA) called Sister’s Islands Marine Park. This 40-hectare MPA was opened in 2015 and covers the space around Sisters’ Islands as well as the western reefs of both St John’s Island and Pulau Tekukor.

Singapore’s MPA is home to Singapore’s first turtle hatchery and provides a safe refuge for our marine biodiversity. In 2017, the park was designated as a public park, making it an offence to fish, collect corals or moor boats near the area without prior permission from the National Parks Board. It is also illegal for people to catch or release animals in this area, which could bring them a fine of up to $50,000 or jail time.

In 2018, Singapore installed 8 reef structures at Sister’s Islands in hopes of giving corals an extra 1,000sqm of reef substrate by 2030. These new artificial reefs could provide a platform to transplant nursery-grown rare coral species and transform bare seafloors into healthy marine ecosystems.

Marine Protected Areas

Singapore’s waters are some of the busiest in the world, yet they house over a third of the world’s coral species, with about 250 species of hard coral. The Sister’s Islands were chosen for the MPA because it was found that some of the reefs there were Singapore’s ‘mother reefs’. Singapore has already lost about 60% of its reefs because of land reclamation. Providing a safe zone is definitely imperative to making sure that we do not completely lose our reefs.

MPAs have many benefits to the marine ecosystem, ultimately centering around ecosystem-based management and a provision of ‘no-take’ areas, allowing fish to thrive and repopulate depleted oceans. There are many examples around the world of how MPA have saved marine ecosystems from destruction, here we’ll look at two from our region.

Apo Island, Philippines

Photo by Cris Tagupa on Unsplash

Apo Island is a remote fishing village in the Philippines. There, the use of dynamite, cyanide, small mesh nets and ‘muro-ami’ – a process of fishing where fish are chased into nets by pounding on the coral with rocks, caused fish stocks to decline to about 5-10% of what they were previously.

The introduction of a marine sanctuary in 1982, which stretched over 450m of shoreline, saw fish numbers increasing in just three years, not just in the sanctuary, but in nearby waters as well. In 1985, they made it legally binding and started using marine guards to enforce laws. By the mid-1990s they saw that catch-per-unit effort almost tripled, and by 2004, had not changed.

Fishermen were obviously elated, and also found that this increase in marine biodiversity brought divers and tourists to the island, increasing revenue and diversifying their work. All this extra money allowed the island to improve the livelihood and infrastructure for their own people. Today, Apo Island boasts about 615 documented fish species and 400 coral ones.


North Sulawesi, Indonesia, Photo by Marcel Friedrich on Unsplash

Indonesia, another of our neighbours has the second largest coastline in the world (95,181km) and the the biggest coral reef area of any country at 51,020sq km. Indonesia has had a zero tolerance with illegal fishing in recent years, sinking about 516 vessels from 2014 to 2019. They also declared commitment to reach 20 million hectares of marine protected areas by 2020.

This all started after ministers realized that Indonesia’s waters were getting decimated by destructive fishing, improper waste disposal, mining and illegal fishing boats. This then caused the suffering of the local fishermen, which averaged about 7.87 million people in 2011. They knew something had to be done in order to save both their people and their marine environments. You might have read that healthy marine ecosystems, mean, lots of sharks. Indonesia set up the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009 in order to do just that.

The Gili Eco Trust, the Gili Shark Foundation and the Gili Shark Conservation Project are collaborating locally to protect the sharks in the Gili Matra reserve. In this 3000 hectare no-go area, all commercial fishing, possession and trade of shark species are prohibited. Indonesia is hoping that this rise in shark numbers will increase the biodiversity of their marine environment, and similarly provide a place for tourists to enjoy sharks in their natural habitat.

There are so many other examples of the advantages of MPAs and how not just the marine species but the human species benefit from them. When you’re out on the water, wherever you may be, make sure to pay attention to where these are, and steer clear. Keep our waters healthy so that our fish, stay happy!

Photo: Marine Stewards Singapore

Get involved in conserving Singapore's marine life!

If you'd like to get involved, here are three ways to do so:

1. Become a Marine Steward

This is the most direct way to contribute! Sign up for a 1 or 2 year membership. As a group, we make things happen together. All are welcome - whether you are a diver, a marine biologist, an angler or an ocean lover, we are all relevant to marine conservation

2. Volunteer

Email us with an introduction and your area of interest to volunteer

3. Shop!

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Marine Stewards is a registered non-profit incorporated in Singapore. Our mission is to promote a healthy fishing culture through sustainable fishing guidelines, education and outreach. Follow us on Facebook and join our Facebook group here!

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