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Forum celebrates Alcala’s life, calls on youth to continue legacy

By Alenah Paulane Ligan and Nathaniel Carampatana | December 5, 2023

Silliman University Angelo King Center for Research in Environmental Management (SUAKCREM) celebrated the life of National Scientist Dr. Angel Alcala and the establishment of the Apo and Sumilon Island community-led Marine Protected Areas (MPA) during the commemorative lecture by Dr. Garry Russ at the Audio-Visual Theater on Nov. 28. 

Russ and Alcala were jointly awarded the Pew Fellowship in Research in 1999, which has significantly influenced national policies on the use of MPAs in the Philippines and Australia. 

They worked together for four decades until Alcala’s death in February 2023.

The talk covered three parts: the celebration and commemoration of the life of Alcala; the 50th anniversary of the first community-based marine resource management meeting held on Sumilon Island; and the 40th anniversary of annual surveys of fish and corals inside and outside Sumilon and Apo Island No-Take Marine Reserves.

Apo Island has celebrated its 40 years since its establishment. Sumilon Island also celebrated 50 years of convenement by Alcala.

Continuing the legacy

According to Russ, Alcala loved to “sit in fishing villages, talking to people, communicating, looking them in the eye, and talking to them as equals, and trying to initiate conservation measures.”

Dr. Robert Guino-o II, SUAKCREM Director, also said that Alcala came from a fishing village. 

“He has the instinct of a fisherman, enabling him to converse with the people from Apo Island and Sumilon Island,” he said.

Russ stated that Alcala talked to the locals about social preparation, community organization, environmental education, and community empowerment.

“Now, a reserve has been protected successfully for 41 years, from 1982 to 2023, due to the strong support of the reserve concept by the Apo islanders, themselves, and successful community-based marine resource management,” he said.

Apo Island is now a Protected Landscape and Seascape under the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), composed of local government units, academe, and the local communities under various organizations.

“It’s the best example anywhere in the world of how people can take ownership of marine management and ownership of managing their resources and getting great success,” said Russ.

Russ said there are plans to continue Alcala’s projects and research works in other parts of Negros

To continue the groundwork that Alcala started, he said to “get people involved in environmental management.”

“The children at Apo Island, in both primary and secondary school, have never known a world without a marine reserve on their doors,” Russ added.

He also said that when kids are trained to preserve marine life, they will teach it to the next generation. 

What the youth could do

Russ advised the youth to keep studying, get credible qualifications, and be persistent.

He said that the best thing to do is to “start volunteering with groups that are doing [marine conservation]” so that “you get your qualifications and people will take note.”

Guino-o also advised “to always connect with the local community to get their support and perspective.”

He added, “Never start a program if you do not connect with your local officials.”

On the 174-reclamation ignorance

On the 174-reclamation project, Russ said he’d be concerned if the project would proceed without environmental assessments. 

“Make sure that all of the environmental and social impacts of a potential project like that are fully assessed,” he said. 

Russ also mentioned that Alcala was very vocal in opposing land reclamation around the old airport and the airport runway extension many years ago.

During the open forum, Pastor Cobie Palm asked Russ about the similarities between the 1960s Great Barrier Reef fossil fuel reclamation and the Dumaguete 174-reclamation project. 

Russ said that the Great Barrier reclamation got turned around because of [people’s] power.

“It was people wanting to conserve something that they thought was extremely valuable to the country,” he said.
Palm added, “I think we need to be reminded of people power, community power. This is what makes the difference. And we need to be called to that—responsibility.”


Editor’s note: This post is part of the Weekly Sillimanian and the College of Mass Communication collaboration. Students taking COM 33 – News Editing and Production under Asst. Prof. Irma Pal temporarily take over the operations for a week or one issue as their final requirement. 

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