University of St. La Salle, La Salle Avenue, Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, Philippines
The coastal waters of Bago City and Pulupandan are core habitats of the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), and the establishment of a marine protected area (MPA) is seen as a crucial strategy in ensuring their conservation. However, the sustainability of the MPA depends on the participation of those who have greater stakes as resource users, the fisherfolk communities. This paper describes and assays the experiences and issues on how fisherfolk organizations were engaged in conservation-based alternative livelihood and protection of the habitats of Irrawaddy dolphins. Using qualitative methods, rapid community appraisal, key informant interviews, focus group discussions, and workshops were conducted involving eight fisherfolk organizations. A conservation-based alternative livelihood framework was adopted in engaging the fisherfolk communities, which was drawn from the concepts of the sustainable alternative livelihoods approach (SALA) and the ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA). Community organizing processes and development principles were observed, such as ensuring that activities are undertaken to be participatory and community-based in approaches. The experiences in engaging fisherfolk organizations yielded some issues and lessons: poverty remains a barrier to conservation; how to contend with the strong dole-out mentality among members; community building as an organizing approach was short-lived; the support of local government units; and the vital role of women in conservation and community development. The study suggests a shift in the community organizing approach towards consensus organizing because environmental conservation necessitates the involvement of various stakeholders.