‘Marine sanctuaries helped restore fish population’

MALIMONO, Surigao del Norte (MindaNews/17 May) — Fisher folk in three coastal villages in this town are seeing a ray of hope saying different species of fish have started to reappear in their municipal waters.

The locals attributed this to the establishment of marine sanctuaries last February to stem the destruction of the fishing grounds, which is mainly blamed on illegal fishing methods that also wrecked coral reefs.

“Thanks to the donors and development partners who gave us the necessary equipment and technical know-how on how to preserve and protect the marine sanctuaries,” Vicente Cabillo, a fish warden in Barangay Cantapoy said in the vernacular.

A fish warden is one who runs after those who violate the laws on marine sanctuaries.

Cabillo, a fisherman himself, said he and his fellow villagers have noticed that the different species of fish are being seen again inside and outside the marine sanctuaries.

Before the fish sanctuaries were established, he said fishermen like him could hardly expect a good catch.

“For three to four hours of fishing using hooks, we consider ourselves lucky enough if we catch a kilo of fish. Sometimes, the best we can do is catch a single fish; sometimes none at all,” Cabillo said.

“We thank the German development organization, GIZ-COSERAM, in partnership with Surigaonon del Norte Non-Government Organization Coalition for Development (SUNGCOD Inc.,) based in Surigao City, and the local government of Malimono for giving us this ultimate need,” he added.

The project covers Cantapoy and two other barangays, Cagtina-e and Karihatag. Installed in each of these villages is a 10-hectare marine sanctuary.

Cabillo couldn’t help but recall the old days when the shoreline was still literally brimming with fish.

“I think the fish then were hungry because every time we dropped a hook with bait, different kinds of fish would hurriedly bite at it,” he recalled.

He said those days are now gone but that they have been encouraged to do more for the next generation.

Fish warden Jose Dullos in Cagtena-e shared a learning experience when they started to implement the no-fishing-zone inside their marine sanctuary.

He happened to apprehend several violators and he was appalled to learn that most of them didn’t know what a marine sanctuary is.

Since the concept of the sanctuary was not understood, he said some of his neighbors got angry at him. But the anger soon dissipated as the community began to realize that the marine sanctuary was meant to benefit its members in the long run.

“At first, most of them did not appreciate the presence of marine sanctuaries saying these are useless and could aggravate loss of income. But now they came to realize that it’s for them and the future generation,” Dullos said.

Fishermen are not even allowed entry to buffer zones surrounding marine sanctuaries for specific periods of time. Vessels of any kind are also prohibited in the protected area.

Collection of sea shells, corals and other marine life is not allowed too.

Scuba diving, snorkeling, and swimming can only be permitted after one year, but in the buffer zone only.

“This pilot project is meant for the preservation and protection of our marine resources and this must be replicated to make it holistic,” Malimono Mayor Teodoro Sinaca Jr. told MindaNews.

Sinaca said capacity-building is also needed for villagers who live near marine sanctuaries in order to make it sustainable.

Johanne Jake Miranda, a businessman-diver, said the Malimono reefs are the last frontier in Surigao del Norte, saying most of the coral reefs in the islands of Siargao and Bucas Grande have been totally damaged by dynamite, liba-liba fishing and other illegal fishing methods.

Miranda said some of the corals off the mainland were also damaged by siltation caused by mining operations like in Claver town.

But he said he was happy that residents of mining sites are becoming aware of the degradation of their marine environment. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)