In a span of two decades, sea patrols in different barangays in Oriental Mindoro worked together with the local government to protect life underwater, but the communities are up against a new set of challenges – to sustain their conservation efforts and to raise awareness on the importance of marine protected areas.
Torno Bigyan, a resident of Barangay Agsalin in Gloria, became a bantay dagat in 1997. Back then, he recalled, the rampant use of dynamite for commercial fishing destroyed almost every living thing undersea. His community had to save one of its most valuable natural resources or they would run out of fish.
Torno Bigyan, who was also a fisherman, had a hard life but the choice he had to make was pretty clear. Torno knew he had to take part in Barangay Agsalin’s marine protection efforts even if it meant losing a source of income.
Torno was not alone in this ordeal. The fisherfolks in different barangays in Oriental Mindoro began to notice that their seas were almost empty of fish.
In Calapan City’s Barangay Lazareto, another coastal area in Oriental Mindoro, 74-year-old Renato Dolores thought about the future of his children and grandchildren. “If I could not send them to school, where would they end up?” he asked.
Declaring stretches of marine protected areas does not solve all problems across all oceans, but it creates spaces for underwater species to breed and thrive. More importantly, one of the key benefits of marine protected areas is that it gives the planet a better chance at fighting climate change.
What about our fisherfolks?
The implementation of no-take zone has been opposed by some fishermen, understandably, as fishing has been the livelihood of many residents in these fishing villages in Oriental Mindoro.
Fraine Manuel, a barangay official in Calapan, explained “It is not fair to arrest and jails someone for fishing in the protected zone. He catches fish because he needs to find something to eat.”
To address the issue, the People’s Organization, the Provincial Agriculturist Office, and the DENR-UNDP project “Strengthening Marine Protected Areas to Conserve Marine Key Biodiversity Areas in the Philippines” SMARTSeas, set up biodiversity-friendly destinations in six different Marine Protected Areas across Oriental Mindoro.
The biodiversity-friendly trail
With ethical travelers as its main target, the initiative aims to develop economically viable enterprises that will generate an alternative source of income for the communities and fisherfolk. At the same time, it provides tourists an opportunity to take part in marine conservation.
The biodiversity-friendly ecotourism destinations that cover marine protected areas begin at the southernmost municipality of Bulalacao and ends at Oriental Mindoro’s most popular tourist spot, Puerto Galera.
The trail is divided into two circuits. Travelers may begin in the southern circuit that includes Bulalacao, Pinamalayan, and Gloria. Alternatively, visitors who opt for places close to the port may visit the northern circuit, which is comprised of Puerto Galera, Calapan City, and San Teodoro.