SMARTSeas / by Bernice Beltran

Fishermen park their boat at the beach in Punta Ilag, Oriental Mindoro. Punta Ilag is planning to expand its no-take zone from 12 hectares to 16 hectares.

Fishermen park their boat at the beach in Punta Ilag, Oriental Mindoro. Punta Ilag is planning to expand its no-take zone from 12 hectares to 16 hectares.

In a span of twenty years, bantay dagat, or 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 (MPA).

Ronaldo “Torno” Bigyan, a resident of Barangay Agsalin in Gloria, became a bantay dagat in 1997. Back then, he recalled, the rampant use of blast 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, who was also a fisherman, worried about his children’s future. “It would be a shame if our children could only look at fish and corals in books and photographs.”

Life was difficult for Torno but he knew that he had to join the group of bantay dagat to guard the 36.5-hectare marine proteced area (MPA) in his hometown. He did this not only for himself, but for his community and his children. 

Barangay Ranzo in Gloria has declared 12 hectares of fish sanctuary.

Barangay Ranzo in Gloria has declared 12 hectares of fish sanctuary.

MPAs help in building ecosystems for species to breed and thrive. Well-managed fish sanctuaries reportedly produce higher yields of fish since corals are protected, which allows fish to grow and reproduce. More importantly, MPAs can mitigate climate change.

What about our fisherfolks?

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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.