In the past, I would have categorized myself pretty much as a hard-core-Darwin-loving-Greenpeace ecologist...let's save the environment by creating marine reserves, no-take zones, and sanctuaries. We'll limit fishing in most areas and give the living marine resources a chance to recover even if it takes decades. Why can't people see what they are doing to the environment and do something to stop it? A lot of my views have gotten a rude awakening recently...
I think it's hard for many of us to imagine a situation in which we only know how to do one thing for a living - fish. Our fathers did it, as well as our grandfathers, great-grandfathers, great-great grandfathers...I think you see where I'm going. Some coastal communities of developing nations (I'll focus on developing nations here since Apo Island is being discussed on many blogs) are very much like this. Fishing isn't just a source of income, it's a source of pride, security, and tradition. Many local fishermen such as those at Apo Island don't know how to do anything else so while they may realize they need to make a change they don't have the means to do so and may not know where to start.
I have read about many successful marine protection programs but one thing most of them have in common is a strong social base upon which to create change. It has been shown that the most effective policies and regulations come from the bottom-up - initiated by the people themselves - as opposed to a government mandate that is forced onto fishermen. There are even US examples of this, the Maine lobster fishery had a dramatic turn-around from the brink of collapse to booming (unfortunately, other problems have now arisen) and many of these changes stemmed from the lobstermen themselves.
The closest situation I can think of for Missourians is corn. Many of you may not be farmers but it probably doesn't take too long for most of you to think of someone who owns land either in Kansas or Missouri and makes a living from growing hundreds of acres. In essence, this does to the land what some fishing practices do to the reefs, it quickly and ruthlessly depletes it of nutrients, destroys habitats, forces native flora and fauna out of the area and in worst-case-senarios to endangerment. How would residents in our corner of the world respond if someone came in and said "That's it! No more corn farming, surely you all can go find something else to do."?
Don't get me wrong, I don't think that everyone should stop farming corn but what if they changed the way they did it (which many farmers are)? Crop rotation (seasonal closures of fishing grounds), use of non-toxic chemicals (changing the gear that fishermen use), and perhaps even the gradual development of alternative incomes seem to me to be the agents of change. Of course, all of this then again changes when you think in terms of time-scale - how quickly are we depleting the resource versus the time it takes the resource to recover really determines the scale of management that needs to be taken. Further complicated by the threat of accelerated global environmental change due to anthropogenic green-house gas emissions....
Wow! This rambled on WAY longer than I planned but I just wanted to throw this out there as something to keep in mind as you are thinking about Apo Island, marine reserves, and fishermen. I don't have an answer (if I did I would be world-famous and rich) but I firmly believe that the answer is far from simple.
What are your thoughts?