Latvian ecologist Ieva Serdiene went to one of the largest protected parks in the Philippines to conduct research for her MSc in Tropical Forestry. Three hundred thousand hectares with valuable tropical forests and coastal ecosystems: the northern Sierra Madre park is striking in its richness in biodiversity, yet its 20,000 inhabitants are among the poorest in the country. Serdiene's research focused on park co-management: cooperation between local communities and the government, aiming towards local management
Co-management proved to be difficult in practice. Serdiene found many stakeholders with different power and interests in the park. The local community includes indigenous peoples and recent migrants who live in forty widespread villages. The isolation of the region makes management even more complicated: it is not only a hotspot for biodiversity conservation, but also for illegal activities. Logging, for example, banned since becoming a protected park, is one of the activities that attracted migrants in the first place. Setting up alternative income-generating projects like coastal fishing, irrigated agriculture, and agroforestry is a priority. However, educating to change local attitudes is difficult: You cannot hold local people responsible for holes in the ozone layer, and they are too poor to be blamed for illegal activities like logging.
Serdiene found the challenges arising from the scale of managing Sierra Madre overwhelming: The size and heterogeneity of such a protected area makes the current idea of co-management unrealistic. The effort and inputs needed are enormous. Still she takes consolation in the enthusiasm of the people involved in the project: Optimism is probably the most important element for success in nature conservation. Am.S