Fish sanctuary offers food for generations

Inquirer (Philippines)
15 October 2015

Lydia Cantos will not allow anyone to do away with the law, especially that related to fisheries. “I love this job. The sea employed my father and my brothers. It literally nurtured us. Imagine rice on the table without fish?” she says.

Cantos, the coastal resource management (CRM) coordinator of Gloria, a serene seaside town of Oriental Mindoro province, is this year’s outstanding employee of the municipal government and the key person behind the multiawarded Agsalin Fish Sanctuary.

Two new marine protected areas (MPAs) are likewise reaping recognition: the 14-hectare fish sanctuary in Barangay Santa Teresa (with two women members of the Bantay Dagat, or Sea Patrol) and the 80.4-ha one in Barangay Tambong.

Gloria is 88 kilometers or about 2 hours’ drive from the City of Calapan, named after former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who spent her childhood days there while her father, Diosdado Macapagal, was serving as President of the country in Manila.

The 11-year-old widely praised sanctuary in the town’s Barangay Agsalin is at the boundary of the Verde Island Passage (VIP) Marine Conservation Corridor and the Tablas Strait. The VIP is internationally known as “the center of the center” of marine biodiversity because of the presence of highly diverse marine population.

Covering 80 ha, it has shoal reefs, 700 to 800 meters from the nearest coastline of black sandy beach of pebbles and gravel, and with a depth of 50 to 60 feet and over a 10-ha field, according to the municipality’s website.

Illegal fishers used to exploit the rich resources of the sea.

Jonathan Fajilagot, 38, a member of the Bantay Dagat and a certified diver, was once engaged in muro ami (reef hunting). “With the fishery seminars, I realized the sea has limits that it would get back at us,” he says.

With the conservation program in place, the sanctuary now has a thriving fish population of groupers, fusiliers, snappers, surgeonfish, sweet lips, rabbitfish, jacks, parrotfish, butterfly and angel fish, giant clams, sea cucumbers and lobsters. Schools of barracudas and sea turtles have also been sighted.