Along the coasts of Northern Palawan, Oriental Mindoro, and Batangas City, where Malampaya Foundation Inc. (MFI) forged community-based marine biodiversity conservation partnerships, deputized volunteer sea rangers or “bantay-dagat” continue their enforcement duties to protect natural coastal resources despite the difficult circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 lockdown.
“Guarding the marine protected areas is crucial at this time to conserve marine resources as some fishermen may try to come in and fish illegally in the area,” said Gorgonio Polilan, a Bantay dagat from Coron, Palawan.
“It needs continuous management and protection for the recovery and replenishment of fish stocks and others.”
The community enforcers are supported by MFI as part of its conservation agreement commitment to strengthen the protection of marine-protected areas (MPAs) and enforcement of environmental and fisheries laws in the different areas.
Approximately 60 percent of Filipinos live in coastal zones, and marine resources form a critical part of their sustenance and livelihood. But harmful fishing practices and unregulated exploitation put these resources at risk.
Since the implementation of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) and its partners in the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine National Police (PNP) have reported several apprehensions of violators, the most common violation being the use of an illegal type of fishing net.
In June of last year, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) estimated that the Philippines loses almost P68.5 million annually to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.
A total of over 140,000 hectares of community-managed MPAs and an estimated economic value of P1.6 billion in marine resources are under the watchful eye of the bantay-dagat volunteers and their partners in the Provincial Agriculture Office, the LGUs, MPA and Enforcement networks.
Partners include national agencies like the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the PNP-Maritime, and the Philippine Coast Guard.
At the onset of the ECQ, MFI immediately deployed food support to the bantay-dagat consisting of a 25-kilogram sack of rice each, fresh and processed meats, and fresh vegetables.
With the food support, MFI was able to help 365 families of the environmental frontliners in Palawan, Oriental Mindoro, and Batangas.
Bantay-dagat from Oriental Mindoro, Marites Asi, 47, shared: “MFI has extended immediate support to us sea rangers especially now. They have been extremely helpful to us.”
“Being a part of the skeletal force during this pandemic is not an easy task. Conducting patrols, responding to environmental threats, and helping the community while abiding by the rules and regulations of the ECQ are a tough challenge,” said El Nido National Park ranger Hero Jeff Isidro.
“The support provided by the MFI, such as the rice subsidy and groceries, is a great help during these challenging times, especially to those whose means of livelihood are heavily affected by the lockdown,” Isidro adds.
“The trainings and seminars hosted by MFI also boosted our knowledge to further enhance our services for environment protection.”
The bantay-dagat are regularly supported by MFI with other conservation incentives annually such as insurance, livelihood support, annual rice provisions, and vocational scholarships for qualified family members.
The foundation forged individual conservation partnerships with the provincial and local government units, and different communities from 2013 onwards to launch community-based actions in the establishment of new and expansion of existing MPAs and Fisheries Management Areas, MPA councils.
These partnerships have been responsible for the implementation of responsive MPA management plans, rehabilitation of degraded coastal species-forming habitats, regular monitoring, socio-economic support to fisher families, and education drives.
Since 2013, 18 out of 35 MPAs covered by the conservation partnerships have been recognized as Best-Managed MPAs at the local, regional, and national levels.
The MPAs have seen increasing fish abundance and reef recovery with several areas exhibiting a return of endangered species after years of absence, such as the napoleon wrasse, sea cow, and apex predators like the black-tip shark.
MFI is the social arm of the Malampaya Joint Venture partners formed in 2005 to work with communities and implement social development and environment conservation programs in the operating areas of the Malampaya Deepwater Gas-to-Power project.
Shell Philippines Exploration BV operates the Malampaya Deep Water Gas-to-Power project on behalf of the SC38 consortium.