FISH ARK Project Presents Tawilis Preservation Progress

by Paula Arreglo and Rafael Panday

Webinar of Dr. Ma. Vivian C. Camacho on Tawilis Conservation

CONSERVATION BREAKTHROUGH. Dr. Ma. Vivian Camacho introduced the project behind the successful collection, transportation, and off-site rearing of tawilis as efforts to conserve the endangered species. (Screenshot from the UPLB MNH Facebook page.)

The Fish Ark Project shows promise in its early results, and for the first time, the Tawilis was successfully collected, transported, and reared alive off-site.

Dr. Ma. Vivian Camacho, station manager of the UPLB Limnological Station and curator for freshwater fishes in UPLB Museum of Natural History (MNH), discussed the Fish Ark Project’s development during the webinar entitled “Saving the Endangered Tawilis (Sardinella Tawilis)” last April 26. The session, in which 123 participants attended, is part of the UPLB MNH’s 2021 Biodiversity Seminar Series.

Dr. Camacho shared that the Tawilis can only be found in Lake Taal (formerly Lake Bombon), Philippines. Aside from being the only freshwater sardine globally, it is also the only freshwater species of Sardinnella closely related to the marine sister species, Sardinella hualiensis.

Preserving the endangered Tawilis

The Tawilis is a commercially known fish enjoyed by the locals of Batangas. However, the overexploitation, pollution, competition, and predation with introduced fishes, threatened the population of this species.

Data shows the significant decline of the Tawilis catch, decreasing by about 49% over the past ten years. In January of 2019, Tawilis was declared endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Tawilis was once again threatened by the sudden eruption of the Taal Volcano almost a year after being declared as an endangered species. This incident and the other existing threats to the endemic species prompted the urgent need for intervention to save Tawilis.

As a solution, the “Fish Ark Project for Taal Lake: Direction for Conservation of the Endemic Freshwater Fish Sardinella Tawilis” was created to explore the rearing and breeding of Tawilis in captivity.

The project is spearheaded by Dr. Camacho, funded by the Department of Science and Technology – Philippines Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD). It was conceived early January of 2020 and realized in July that same year.

The potential of rearing Tawilis outside Taal Lake

Though there were signs of post-transport stress such as “physical trauma incurred while swimming in the enclosure,” Dr. Camacho explained that the efficiency in collection and transport proved high survival in two successful rearing months.

“We are still in the infancy stage of knowing several aspects of Tawilis, such as their biology, ecology, [kung] kaya ba siyang i-breed…” Dr. Camacho said. She shared the future research directions for the project, such as further refining methods to increase survivability, live feed experiments, examination of diseases or infections, and captive breeding.

Current progress in the project presents a high potential for the conservation of the Tawilis. It opens up the possibility of restocking in case the wild population dwindles due to the increasing threats. It also highlights the high potential for aquaculture in providing local fisherfolk with a source of livelihood.

The protected seascape managed by Taal Volcano Protected Landscape Protected Area Management Board (TVPL-PAMB), protection efforts from overfishing, the establishment of Tawilis Reserve Area (TRA), and the proposed translocation of the Tawilis to Lake Lanao in Mindanao are just some of the conservation actions that Dr. Camacho shared in the webinar.

UPLB MNH is a university-wide unit focusing on exploring, documenting, and preserving the Philippines’ biological diversity through university-based research and collaboration. Their biodiversity seminar series kicked off in January 2021 as a way to promote biodiversity education and conservation. The recorded version of the webinar from Dr. Camacho can be watched on UPLB MNH’s Facebook page.

Find out more about tawilis conservation and the Fish Ark Project in the infographic below.

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