PANGATALAN ISLAND, PHILIPPINES, (September 19th, 2019) – In 1992, French business developer Fred Tardieu and his wife packed up their belongings and departed from their home, careers and ease of familiarity to pursue what they thought would be a well-earned retirement. Little did they know at the time, their unassuming plunge into adventure would lead them to become trailblazing marine conservationists in the Philippines. Driven by their love for the ocean and eagerness for bettering the world, in 2011 they purchased Pangatalan Island in Palawan and founded Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation, where they work alongside conservation partners and local community members to restore the island’s unique ecosystems that have been damaged from unsustainable practices. Alongside their partners, in 2017, they established a 45-hectare marine protected area (MPA) surrounding the island – with another MPA double its size currently in the works.
Pangatalan Island has been declared a Hope Spot by international nonprofit Mission Blue to highlight the profound impact that a small group of citizens can make when they seek to change the world.
Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue says, “The time is now to empower one another to do what we can with what we have to protect the fragile marine ecosystems around the world. The conservation work on Pangatalan Island is an incredible example of the impact people can make– cause for hope.”
“When my wife Chris and I came to Pangatalan in 2011, we found the island in various states of destruction and we knew we had to do something to stop further negative human impact,” says Fred Tardieu, Hope Spot Champion and Chairman of Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation. Upon seeing that much of the island’s mangrove forest had been chopped down, Tardieu felt it was the focus in which to begin his conservation efforts. He was deeply moved by his newfound obligation, and since then, he and his partners Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Western Palawan University have successfully planted nearly 70,000 new trees from 52 different species.
Pangatalan Island is located in the Shark Fin Bay at the North East of Palawan, Philippines, and has been recognized as a Marine Biosphere Reserve of UNESCO since 1990. Thanks to its location at the end of the bay, the island is very nutrient-rich, leading to high biomass productivity and biodiversity. In 2016, Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation, in conjunction with the barangays of Depla, Silanga and the municipality of Taytay, established a 45-hectare marine protected area surrounding the island and are currently at work to establish a second, 100-hectare MPA later in 2019. The MPA is accredited through the LGU and PCSD (Philippines governance) and is supported by the local population. The MPA is locally managed and protected day and night, creating jobs for members of the local villages.
Perhaps Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation’s most notable work is their innovative coral restoration method, called Sulu Reef Prosthesis (SRP), which has breathed new life back into the once-damaged reefs. Over the course of many years, the reefs surrounding Pangatalan have suffered severe damage from destructive fishing methods including cyanide and dynamite fishing. Tardieu described the growing concern throughout the local community over the decreasing fish populations; their main food source comes directly from the sea.
“With our SRP method, the coral reefs are being restored and the fish populations are coming back in healthy numbers,” he explains. “The local people now have a stronger sense of food security.”
Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation began their coral restoration project the marine protected area in 2017. Their SRP method includes structures made from concrete, nails and wire, without any use of chemicals or plastic, which allows the coral to attach and grow. They’ve also witnessed several endangered and vulnerable species return to the area, including the hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), as well as the humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus), horseshoe crab (Limulidae) and humphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum).
The spirit of sustainability is strong in the Philippines; the Race for Water is beginning on September 19th, which is an avant-garde boat race powered solely by solar energy. The boats will travel the world for 3 years to better understand the problem of plastic pollution. Sulubaai will participate in the Race for Water to carry out a scientific mission with Banyuls Oceanology, in which they’ll be looking for microplastics in the environment and especially in marine species.
One of Tardieu’s and Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation’s main focus is on the local community and their involvement in marine conservation.
He elaborates, “With the restoration of the site underway, the next step for the foundation is to educate the local population of its need to be protected. We’ve launched the Academy of the Sea to not only educate children of the surrounding villages but also to raise awareness about the bay’s ecological value and of sustainable management.” He continues, “Many local people don’t know of the local marine environment, nor of the impact of destructive fishing methods. When you practice sustainable fishing methods, it keeps the fish populations at healthy numbers. Education is a key tool in reducing pressure on marine ecosystems.”
Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation is aiming to develop ecotourism activity to educate the growing number of tourists in Palawan and involve them with local marine conservation efforts. They launched the program Biosphere Responsible Tourism with UNESCO, with projected programs to create new jobs for local village members and engage them in the preservation of their unique and precious marine ecosystem.
The work of Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation has proven that it’s possible to reverse the damage made to marine ecosystems– even in remote areas, across different cultures, languages and backgrounds. The conservation work underway on Pangatalan Island is a source of inspiration to the rest of the world to rise up and protect our common marine legacy.
“Nature has the ability to restore herself,” says Tardieu. “She just needs some help.”
About Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation
The Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation is very young, but it has already proven that anything is possible without huge resources. Pangatalan Island received the first sustainability award from the NGO SMILO– we are the first “Biosphere Sustainable Tourism” in the Philippines. UNESCO published an article on our innovative and 100% organic restoration. Our goal is to become an example and a model to follow because small islands act as early alerts for the global sensitization.