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Saving the Philippines’ Giant Clams

After decades of joint research work by Australian and Filipino scientists, Philippine reefs are reaping massive benefits from the restocking of giant clams in the country – from restoring health of coastal fisheries to driving tourism in coastal communities.

CLAMS

An early gathering of the giant clam project leaders at Bolinao Marine Laboratory. The late UP Professor Edgardo Gomez is standing top right; Barney Smith, ACIAR fisheries program manager at the time, is seated far left.

In the mid-1980s, the Philippines’ beautiful Tridacna gigas or giant clams were almost wiped out.

Three decades later, joint research work by Australian and Filipino marine scientists have seen over 70,000 giant clams restored to the reefs.

In the late 1980s, The University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UPMSI) – led by its founder the late Professor Edgardo Gomez – started working with James Cook University in Australia through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), to establish a giant clam nursery hatchery for restocking the Philippine reefs.

“Giant clam research projects in the Philippines were virtually non-existent before the Australian Government’s support,” Professor Gomez had said.

While research projects in the late 1980s and early 1990s were a great success in terms of scientific and technical advances, economic success was more elusive. In the Philippines, the government ban on giant clam exports in 1996 was a major setback to accessing the lucrative international aquarium trade.

With Australian support, the Professor Gomez and fellow marine scientists then decided to focus their research work to restocking reefs around the country with giant clams – by then an almost extinct species. They established an aquaculture system that linked giant clam breeding at national hatcheries with community farming of juvenile clams on the reefs, and ultimately with commercial markets that would provide economic sustainability and incentive.

Unforeseen by the original project planners, the giant clams became an increasingly valuable asset to a booming tourism sector, as well as a boost to reef health for fishing communities. Giant clams are important for the marine ecosystem because they build up the reef, provide shelter to corals and fishes, and act as natural filters for nutrients and food for other organisms.

To this day, the restocking program and giant clam-related research at the University of the Philippines’ Bolinao Marine Laboratory in Pangasinan continue. At present there are more than 70,000 giant clams around the islands of the Philippines—an unmitigated success in terms of the project’s restocking objective. Giant clams mean healthy coastal fisheries, and without the partnerships with and commitment of communities these animals would have been lost years ago.

The marine laboratory runs regular training courses so that community members and resort staff in the area know how to care for the young giant clams, promoting the role of communities in managing marine areas.

Australia recognizes that international collaboration in research promotes sustainable agricultural and aquacultural systems that benefit the region. Australian scientists will continue to work with Philippine scientists to contribute to the protection and management of the Philippines’ marine resources, essential to achieving a prosperous ocean and coastal-based economy.

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