In 2018, the government of Escalante city, Philippines, sought to improve the sustainability of marine resource utilisation within Escalante waters as part of a larger overhaul of sustainable resource use within its borders. As part of this effort, Conservation Diver was approached to provide an ecological assessment of species richness and ecosystem health within Escalante, with a particular focus on assessing the suitability of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) within Escalante waters, 15 years after its initial designation. Surveys were conducted at multiple locations throughout the Escalante coastline to provide an initial inventory of species found, with further ecological assessments being carried out in coral reefs at various sites. A total of 714 species were recorded in Escalante waters during the survey period. Coral reefs surveyed were found to be highly variable in their community structure and coral cover, and were found to support generally low abundances of reef-associated fish and invertebrates, particularly of those groups which were known to be of commercial value. Surveys of the fish market yielded remarkably high levels of legal and illegal catch from within reef areas. Surveys within the currently designated MPA revealed very little coral cover and drastically lower biodiversity or commercially valuable marine resources of virtually any kind when compared to most surveyed locations within Escalante waters. We therefore propose alternative zonation strategies and improvements to the sustainability of resource use at Escalante and provide an initial framework for further assessment and development of sustainability within Escalante waters.
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