Located in the heart of the Sulu Sea, in the Philippines, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as one of the most diverse spots on earth.
In this podcast, we get to know Angelique Songco, the Superintendent of the Marine Protected Area. Also affectionately known as “Mama Ranger”.
Passion for the marine world
During our conversation, we learn what drove Angelique’s passion for the marine world. Growing up close to rivers and the sea, she was often amazed at the diversity and beauty of sea life. As she remembers, “I realised that something so beautiful needed to be kept in that state. It had to be protected.”
With this early fascination with the marine world, she went on to become a diving professional which only strengthened her interest.
Unfortunately, as well as the beauty of the ocean, she also witnessed the devastating impact of illegal fishing and activities such as using dynamite. This drove her determination to act.
Today, the Tubbataha Reefs is a strictly no-take zone for fishers, but it is open for tourism activities. But it wasn’t always like that. It took action by local scuba divers to put pressure on the government to preserve the area. And in 1988, it became the first national marine park in the Philippines and the country’s first no-take zone.
Tourism versus traditional fishing grounds
So, while this was a significant victory for conservation, the illegal fishing continued and tension was high in the local communities and with the fishers. This posed a significant risk to the conservation efforts.
As Angelique shared during the interview, it wasn’t only the livelihoods of the local community that was creating the tension, but the feeling of injustice. That tourism could continue but locals could no longer fish in their traditional fishing grounds. As she explains, local people were asking: “How come we cannot use this park, which is ours, part of our community, but there are all these rich foreigners and rich Filipinos coming and using it?”.
The team had several consultations with fishers and local communities who eventually agreed to forgo fishing in the area in exchange for a percentage of the tourism revenues. This income would be used to fund their livelihood. This compromise holds strong to this day.
Hope for the future
After years of working in the area and building trusted relations with the local community, we asked Angelique what makes her optimistic for the future. She said it is the young people, “the next generation of managers, showing interest. So I’m really optimistic because there’s a lot of interest in marine conservation these days”, she adds.
Click below to listen to the episode and find out more about Angelique and her inspiring work. Good Natured is a podcast made of uplifting chats that shine a light on conservation challenges. You can listen to the other episodes here.