DEPUTIZED volunteer sea rangers, or the “Bantay-Dagat” rangers, amid community quarantine continue their enforcement duties to protect natural coastal resources despite the difficult circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 lockdown.
Yes, despite lockdowns and scorching heat, you can find them along the coasts of Northern Palawan, Oriental Mindoro, and Batangas City, where Malampaya Foundation Inc. (MFI) forged community-based marine biodiversity conservation partnerships.
“Importante ang pagbabantay [ng Marine Protected Areas] kasi baka ito’y pasukin ng ibang mga mangingisda, at upang mapangalagaan ang mga yamang dagat para ito'y yumabong, ang mga isda at iba pa,” Gorgonio Polilan, a Bantaydagat from Coron, Palawan. [“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. It needs continuous management and protection for the recovery and replenishment of fish stocks and others.”]
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.
The community enforcers are supported by MFI as part of its conservation commitment to strengthen the protection of marine-protected areas (MPAs) and enforcement of environmental and fisheries laws in the different areas.
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 that several apprehensions of violators have been made, the most common violation being the use of an illegal type of fishing net.
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, MaritesAsi, 47, shared, “Agad ay may suporta ang MFI para sa aming mga bantay-dagat tulad ngayon. Malaking tulong po sa amin ang ipinaabot nila para sa amin.” [“MFI has extended immediate support to us sea rangers especially now. They have been very helpful to us.”]
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.
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 MalampayaDeepwater Gas-to-Power project. Shell Philippines Exploration BV operates the Malampaya Deep Water Gas-to-Power project on behalf of the SC38 consortium.