Ecologically connected Marine Protected Area (MPA) Network

Meeting with members of Barangay Siit (© Jadloc)
Published: 04 August 2015
Last edited: 28 March 2019
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Connectivity of coral reef fish populations through larval dispersal is a key to effective networks of marine reserves for fisheries management and biodiversity conservation. Genetic parentage analysis data revealed existence and patterns of reef fish larval dispersal among MPAs along a 90 km coastal stretch in the province of Negros Oriental, Philippines. This knowledge helps stakeholders to improve both scale and design of new MPAs and governance of existing MPAs.


Southeast Asia
Scale of implementation
Coral reef
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Coastal and marine spatial management
Protected and conserved areas governance
Science and research
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness


Negros Oriental, Philippines


The effectiveness of MPA networks to increase fish stocks and climate change resilience of coral reefs to and protect marine ecosystems depends on their ecological connection by larval dispersal.


Fishing communities, government units and MPA managers as well as scientific community

How do the building blocks interact?

The communication of scientific results (Building block 2) on larvae dispersal patterns and its consequences on existing and future MPA and MPA network governance depends on the respective scientific investigations (Building block 1). However, experience on MPA establishment and governance from stakeholders and decision makers may help scientists and experts for the design and interpretation of survey data. The exchange on information and know-how between both groups does not only improve understanding but it is crucial to the effective design of viable MPAs and MPA networks. The support of relevant government institutions is a key factor for the success of both building blocks, and to successfully achieve the solution.


The solution enables coastal resource managers to validate larger-scale social and ecological effects of MPAs that they helped establish over many decades. Local stakeholders realize the need for inter-municipal MPA networks that are ecologically connected to address larger-scale fisheries management and conservation objectives. It serves as a model for creating ecological MPA networks in other regions of the Philippines, maritime countries in South-East Asia, and the Coral Triangle. It provides inputs for coral reef management (CRM) initiatives and actions.


The scientific aspect of this solution tackled one of the biggest questions in marine ecology: How far do larvae of coral reef fish disperse? Do most of them settle close to their parents? Or do they disperse over very long distances to seed other reefs? The answers to this question have big implications for fisheries management and biodiversity conservation using networks of MPAs. Thus, the implementation of this solution was very exciting not only to the scientists but also to MPA managers and local stakeholders who have been active in coastal resource management for several decades. We had some memorable experiences when we were sharing the scientific results to stakeholders. The results undeniably showed, for the first time, that many of the existing MPAs were connected to each other by larval dispersal, forming a network that can enhance recovery of populations within MPAs. The results also showed that some MPAs can provide larvae to fishing grounds, which may give a boost to local fisheries. These were based on empirical data. Many local fishers participated in the field work that was required to obtain these data. Thus, many local stakeholders felt that the results were a clear vindication of their efforts and sacrifices over many years to manage their MPAs. This, to me, was a greater achievement than answering the ecological questions.

Contributed by

Rene A. Abesamis Silliman University-Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management (SUAKCREM)

Other contributors

Silliman University-Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management (SUAKCREM)