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The island of Palawan in the Philippines is home to the last frontier of ecological study in the Philippines. Palawan may be seen clearly from a topographic map of the Philippines as a narrow archipelago comprised of 1784 islands located at the west-southwest tip of the country. Palawan is known to be the largest island in the country, with its coastline spanning 2000 km characterized by numerous coves and bays (Budomo, 2004).
Palawan is rich in natural resources, boasting tropical forests and coral reefs which are home to many endangered species. It is divided into 21 municipalities, 420 small towns and one city.
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For purposes of this essay, the focus will be Palawan’s capital city, Puerto Princesa and its coastal and marine resources. The city has a total forest cover of 151405 hectares which is 60 percent of the total land area. 10000 hectares are allotted to national park reservations and 72000 hectares are allotted to agricultural purposes. A long mountain range cuts the city into two areas. Three bays surround the city as well, namely Honda Bay, Puerto Princesa Bay and the Ulugan Bay. 416 kilometers of coastline stretch the perimeter of the city while its coastal waters alone cover an area of 327568 hectares. The city has two types of climate, the dry season and the rainy season (Budomo, 2004).
Since the area is a capital city, it was seen that the growing population had begun to take its toll on the resources of the city. Economic and environmental pressures as well as conflicts within the local government on use of resources were beginning to occur. Influx of migrants and the higher demand for fish and marine resources from other parts of the country were depleting the previously-mentioned resources. Studies conducted showed that mangrove and coral reefs in the region that were pristine and functional 10 years ago were now degraded and destroyed because of overexploitation. The people in the community were already experiencing problems of their own such as high dependence on dwindling coastal resources which lead to low household income, low education levels and growing populations.
Further studies showed that only 19.3 percent to 50.63 percent of all total corals were alive. The degradation was attributed to cyanide fishing practices, careless dropping of anchor and use of dynamite (Budomo, 2004). This could be because of the low educational levels of the community and the lack of support from local government to educate and train local communities.Commercial fishermen were also beginning to invade the waters that were previously being fished only by the local residents. Land-based activities were also beginning to encroach on the safety of the resources, with extensivesoil erosion from upland activities finding their way into the river systems and coastal areas, contaminating the living environments of the fish and marine resources. Poor law enforcement may be attributed to this, as industrial efforts within the province increased.
Continued use of destructive fishing practices by the ever-growing population was also seen as a problem that contributed to lack of fish. Water pollution and poor waste disposal (industrial and domestic waste) in the communities around the coastal and land resources also threatened the viability of the said resources. Fishery laws and natural resource laws were not being enforced properly to deter these illegal and destructive practices.
The weather systems present in the region as well greatly affect the livelihood of the fishermen. During months of intense rain and storms, fishing is halted completely due to the danger it involves and the lack of environmental safety measures also cause the reefs and forests to sustain substantial damage, leading to more losses (Budomo, 2004).
Most of the communities in the area depended completely on the coastal resources for livelihood, and with the numerous problems surrounding the resources, it may be seen that their survival is at stake. They turn to so-called ‘mother boats’ which employ the smaller boats to fish for them and immediately buy all the catch of the latter to sell them. It had become common practice for the fishermen to borrow money in advance from these boat operators to be able to survive, which causes them to be buried in debt, so the fish they catch is not compensated anymore (Budomo, 2004).
These problems show a wide range of issues that concern the natural resources in Puerto Princesa. The systematic and legal nature of the problems, along with how land and coastal resource use are interconnected because of the topography of the area call for an integrated approach in the solution. A community-based initiative and thrust on resource management is then inferred to be a possible solution to the wide range of problems. The project will use the dependency of the community on the resources at risk as an entry point.
Tapping the community members’ potential for managing resources should be a main feature of resource management projects in the area. Since the majority of the problems in the area such as destructive fishing practices and poor law enforcement deplete coastal resources, training and education of community members is crucial. The fishermen themselves can become the enforcers of fishery law in the communities, as their livelihood depends on upholding the law to protect the resources that guarantee their survival. Also, a community-based effort will ensure the continuity of resource management as the youth of the community may be involved in the project.
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