In the Philippines, about a three-hour drive south from the capital of Manila, a coral reef that spells out ‘Lobo’, along with a ‘Love Heart’ has attracted much interest from fishing and diving communities as much as the local biodiversity.

Lobo LMMA is one of the original LMMA’s in the Philippines and continues to innovate solutions to improve the health and biodiversity of the marine protected area and adjunct fishing grounds. Artificial reefs are a mainstay of their fisheries management toolbox, along with warding off fishers from neighbouring coastal communities from fishing in no-take zones and banning spear and net fishing.

Since February 2014, artificial reefs have improved local fish stocks and created new underwater attractions for a thriving eco-tourism industry at Malabrigo and Soloc.

Lobo LMMA embarked on an ambitious project of constructing artificial reefs by first training 21 fishers in scuba diving (two became dive masters). With new scuba skills, these fishers started constructing the artificial reefs.

The Philippine Airforce soldiers trained and assisted the group to place 1000 concrete blocks at Malabrigo and 5000 concrete blocks at Soloc. This support ensured the placement of the blocks reflected the initial design; one is a pyramid and the other is an arena style.

The results speak for themselves.

A Rapid Resource Assessment of the MPA and Reef Habitat in Lobo by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources found an increase in fish biodiversity at both reefs.

The concrete reef blocks have acted as suitable stable substrate for the recruitment of hard corals. In Soloc, the diversity of corals is particularly impressive. The design of the cubes has also provided an important refuge for smaller fish, harbouring higher fish biomass, which may potentially contribute to small-scale local fisheries through emigration or by maintaining a spawning stock.

A combined total of 67 species of fish from 25 families were identified. Most of these species are ecologically important and 29 are commercially important or target species for coral-health indicators. Estimated abundance of fish was over 1900 individuals and there was a total of 927 individuals recorded at the Malabrigo reef, and estimated biomass of 110kg across both reefs is impressive given the relatively small area in coverage.

Engaging the local community in the design and construction of the artificial reefs has further given Lobo LMMA something more to be proud of. The group conducts ongoing community engagement and shares underwater video of the artificial reefs at the local town plaza. This engagement has built community support to respect new rules with only hook and line fishing being allowed in the artificial reef areas.

As the artificial reefs do limit fishing there were different reactions from fishers. While some fishers haven’t been happy as they cannot use nets in the artificial reef areas, most fishers are happy and agree to disallow the use of nets so that they can fish every day.

Support from the municipal Local Government Unit of Lobo led by the Local Chief Executive has further helped expand the idea and there are plans to deploy artificial reefs in other coastal barangays.

Before and After images of the concrete reef blocks have acted as suitable stable substrate for the recruitment of hard corals. Photo source from Lobo LMMA.