Friday, October 22, 2004

Environment News

Saving Anilao's coral reefs
Updated 03:42am (Mla time) Oct 21, 2004
By Marlon Ramos
Inquirer News Service

Romy Trono, a scuba diver and dive instructor, has been in Batangas for almost 25 years. Yet until now he continues to be amazed at the rich marine life in the waters of Anilao and the Verde Passage in Mabini, Batangas.

But recent news on the sudden rise of illegal fishing activities in the area are troubling Trono and environmentalists like him.

He said the reported incidents of dynamite and cyanide fishing have destroyed a considerable part of the coral reefs in the Anilao and Verde Passage.

Trono, executive director of Conservation International (CI), has loved Anilao since his college days. He said its underwater scenery is stunning.

"This is a spectacular place for scuba diving. It's the most beautiful dive site nearest Manila. And if you want to see reef fishes and live corals, this is definitely the place for you," he said.

Trono cited a scientific article prepared last month by American fish taxonomist Kent Carpenter and scientist Victor Springer, which detailed the biodiversity of Verde Passage.

The two researchers said the sea channel that covers Batangas Bay, Anilao, Tingloy Island, Verde Island and the northern part of Mindoro has over 60 percent of the 2,983 species found in seawaters around the world.

"That study identified a part of Verde Passage, which is some 10 square kilometers, as the center of the global marine biodiversity," Trono said.

After learning about the illegal fishing, Trono immediately asked his friends from the Rotary Club of Makati-Salcedo to help safeguard the municipal waters of Mabini and the island-municipality of Tingloy, south of Batangas.


Upon Trono's initiative, officers of the Rotary Club met with Tingloy Mayor Antonio Atienza and members of the local Bantay Dagat last Sept. 22 in Makati.

During the meeting, Atienza raised his concern about the renewed activities of operators of small and large commercial fishing vessels that are engaged in destructive fishing.

Atienza admitted that his town, a fifth-class municipality, could not afford to patrol the entire seawater surrounding Tingloy.

He said the incidence of illegal fishing in Mabini and Tingloy increased after a marine ecosystem preservation project of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in their area ended in July.

Atienza also disclosed that the two boats that Bantay Dagat members had been using in patrolling the locality needed repairs. The WWF used to fund the maintenance of the two boats, he said.

"That is where we thought our group could be of help," said Ed Dannug, Rotary Club of Makati-Salcedo president.

Dannug said the group approved the project as part of its centenary celebration.

The Rotary Club also forged an agreement with the local government of Tingloy for the boat maintenance.

On Oct. 2, the club handed over the money to Mercado de Guzman, head of the Bantay Dagat, to start the repair of the patrol vessels.

Mooring buoys

The Rotary Club has also financed the setting up of around 20 mooring buoys in the area since 2000 to prevent the destruction of coral reefs.

Last year, the group put up fish shelters to propagate corals around the area.

De Guzman, who is also a town councilor, said the repair of the boats was a shot in the arm in the operations of the Bantay Dagat.

In the past, fishermen engaged in dynamite fishing and other forms of destructive fishing could run away because local authorities had no boats to use in running after the culprits, he said.

Some operators also issued cellular phones to their crew.

"They could easily send text messages to their people and inform them that we were coming. This made our job even harder," De Guzman said.

He added that the meager P100-a-day allowance each of the Bantay Dagat members receives does not compensate for the risk they face in their job.

De Guzman blamed some local politicians who continue to tolerate illegal fishing. He said some barangay officials coddle operators of destructive fishing.

He said the residents had come to realize the ill effects of illegal fishing after nongovernment groups taught them to veer away from illegal fishing.

He, however, said the project was not that easy to sustain. He said they needed P26,000 to cover monthly expenses.

"We need help from other groups to keep the project going. We are now actually negotiating for a sisterhood agreement with Rotary Clubs from Japan and Taiwan. We could source funds from them and [use the money] to expand more into community service," he said.

Dannug said they also intended to build an ice plant where fishermen could store extra fish, and introduce cottage industries and other livelihood activities to residents as part of their coastal resource management program.

But for Trono, the enforcement of environmental laws is far more important than monitoring.

Those who would like to help may visit the Rotary Club, 7th floor, Erechem Building, Salcedo corner Rufino Streets, Makati City or contact Vanessa at 8107977 or Ed Dannug at 8966247.

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