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These guardians of sea are former blast fishers

By Rhaydz B. Barcia

AROROY, Masbate --- Brothers Joecil Regala, 56, Rogelio, 43 and Darwin, 40, who live in Barangay Tigbao in Aroroy, Masbate were into a destructive fishing practice from year 1980 to 2016. They were using dynamites to stun or kill schools of fish.

They said that they were doing it for easy collection of fish which they transported and sold to the town market.

The self-confessed illegal fishers have transformed themselves as wardens of the sea committed to revive the coral reefs that are facing extinction due to illegal fishing activities.

Rogelio admitted that he was the one who produces the improvised dynamites they called “piston.”

“Gumagawa ako ng piston para sa panghuhuli ng isda. Pinapasabog naming magkakapatid sa may corals dahil mas maraming isda doon na nakatira at mahuhuli,” he said.

Asked how long they were into such illegal practice, Rogelio responded that they were into illegal dynamite fishing since the 80s until he decided to stop the nefarious activity in 2016. His left arm and 2 fingers in the right hand were amputated due to dynamite explosion.

BLAST FISHERS NO MORE Siblings Joecil and Rogelio, of Sitio Colorada Barangay Tigbao in Aroroy Masbate formerly tagged as illegal dynamite fishers vigilantly guard the sea as its wardens. The duo regularly check the marine protected area 24/7 to ensure that no fishermen will catch fish within the protected zone. (Rhaydz B. Barcia)

“Sa bawat sabog ng dynamite sa dagat malapit sa corals, mahigit two meters ang nasisira. Ginagawa naming ‘yung dynamite fishing mula dekada 80 hanggang 2016 para suportahan ata buhayin ang aming mga pamilya. Subalit nabago ang lahat ng 2017 mula nang kunin kaming bantay dagat ng Filminera at ng LGU ng Aroroy,” he said.

When asked if they noticed a significant decline of fish catch after the massive devastation of coral reefs, brothers Joecil, Rogelio and Darwin affirmed that the massive deterioration of coral reefs completely affected their survival following extinction of marine resources.

“We stopped doing illegal dynamite fishing when we were employed by Filminera and LGU in 2017 as wardens of the sea to bring back the fish and revive the corals. We are manning the sea six times a day and receiving P365 a day,” Darwin said.

Darwin said that the employment opportunities given to them by the LGU, Filminera and Phil Gold prompted them to halt from illegal fishing activities that transformed them instead as protectors of the sea.

Joecil said that he and his two younger brothers Rogelio, Darwin and other members of the Bantay Dagat were closely watching over the 129-hectare marine protected area (MPA).

Within the MPA is the 3,993 reef balls planted with 52,000 coral fragments spearheaded by the Philippine Gold Processing & Refining Corporation (PGPRC) starting in 2017 to help restore the dying corals following the unabated illegal fishing activities of the local fishermen for several decades.

He said that there are six wardens of the sea all from Tigbao village in the gold -rich town of Aroroy. They are closely watching the marine protected area so that fishermen from other areas will not be able to go on fishing in the MPAs.

He said that his duty begins on day time along with his two other brothers Rogelio and Darwin.

“Originally, we were seven members of 'Bantay Dagat' wardens of the sea but he opted to retire because he is a senior citizen now. As Bantay Dagat, we don’t allow any fishermen to enter and catch fish within the declared marine protected area. So, for six years without fishing, the MPA is now home to different marine species. The corals are also reviving,” Joecil told Bicol Mail.

He said that the six years of no fishing activities within the MPA greatly helped the revival of corals and served as the breeding ground of marine life.

“Today, the fish is back. The corals are recovering. There are no longer dynamite fishing activities here. Without the MPA, there would be no changes. We are grateful for the employment provided by Filminera and LGU to us since 2017 until now. Through this, we halted from doing dynamite fishing and now serve as protectors of the sea. We’re also happy that numerous fish are breeding along the reef balls where new corals regenerated,” he said.

Aside from increasing numbers of fish, sea turtles, lobsters, giant clams and other sea creatures have been thriving in the Marine Protected Area (MPA) of Colorado Point in Barangay Tigbao here.

He said that the MPA where the reef balls were put up is the corridor or highway of the boats heading to various villages and localities so they’re eyeing the area 24/7 to ensure that no fishing will be done.

Lovelle Cariaga, 41, Filminera environmental manager, a local from Masbate City and a graduate of Chemical Engineering at Bicol University of Legazpi said that the Filminera Resources Corp. and PGPRC, which is its sister company, partnered with the local government of Aroroy to rehabilitate coral reefs that were destroyed due to unabated dynamite fishing and other illegal fishing activities.

Cariaga said that the two firms and partnership with the LGU of Aroroy town established the MPA covering 129 areas wherein at least 3, 993 reef balls were deployed within the Colorada and planted with 52,000 coral fragments.

Cariaga explained that the reef balls are made of special, marine-friendly concrete and are used worldwide to create habitats for fish and other marine and freshwater species. These are made in different sizes to best match the natural reef type under the seabed of Colorada Point in Tigbao village, this town.

"A reef ball is an artificial reef designed to mimic the function of a natural reef. It was developed by the United States-based Reef Ball Foundation to restore ailing or destroyed coral reefs and create new fishing and scuba diving sites," Cariaga said.

The construction and deployment of the Reef Balls started in 2017 in tandem with the US-based Reef Ball Foundation, a non-profit environmental organization with a mission to rehabilitate the world's ocean reef ecosystems and to protect the natural reef systems using Reef Ball artificial reef technologies.

Local fisherfolk helped in the production of the reef balls and have become the wardens of the MPA. Reef balls enhance marine life in a barangay in Aroroy, Masbate.

Various species of fish including the presence of some turtles, lobsters, and other marine life are now observed thriving in the Marine Protected Area (MPA) of Colorada Point, Barangay Tigbao in Aroroy, Masbate where Phil Gold Processing & Refining Corporation has deployed the 3, 993 reef balls and planted 52,000 coral fragments.

Filminera Resources Corporation plants artificial coral reefs to restore marine life that has been damaged by destructive fishing methods.

The project was done in partnership with the Reef Ball Foundation. Reef ball is an artificial reef designed to replicate the function of a natural reef, with holes that create whirlpools around it.

It is placed there to restore ailing or destroyed coral reefs and to make new fishing and scuba diving sites. These are made of a special, marine- friendly concrete and used around the world to create habitats for fish and other marine and freshwater species.

It was developed by US-based Reef Ball Foundation, a publicly supported non-profit and international environmental NGO whose mission is to rehabilitate the world's ocean reef ecosystems, to restore ailing or destroyed coral reefs and create new fishing and scuba diving sites.

The restoration of the reef is critical for the long-term sustainability of the marine ecosystem and the future of the 37 local fishermen, the Filminera environmental manager said.

With the new technology, fish and marine life has abounded from the initial reef balls planted in 2017, there is now a total 3, 993 reef balls planted along with 52,000 coral fragments.

The Colorada Point was declared a marine protected area with Phil Gold as its main driver. The firm has been continuously expanding the mangroves planting program to provide additional livelihood to the coastal community of Port Barrera.

Cariaga said that next month, they will be deploying over 400 reef balls in the MPA to regenerate more coral fragments through the eco-friendly artificial reefs.

"Next month, we will deploy additional reef balls in the MPA in Colorada Point to continue and expand the revival of coral reefs through the reef balls. As reef restoration is critical for the marine ecosystem's long-term sustainability thus helping mitigate the impact of climate change through revitalization of coral cover in the sea beds aside from providing livelihood to local fishermen,” Cariaga said.

The Colorada Point was declared a marine protected area with PGPRC as its main proponent. To complement the revival of coral reefs, the firm has been continuously expanding the mangrove planting program to provide an additional livelihood to residents of the coastal community in Aroroy.

Phil Gold also hired the local fishermen in the community to become wardens of the MPA and assistants for coral planting and propagation works.

Goat dispersal project was also implemented as part of the livelihood program to support the fisherfolk organization in the locality.

Phil Gold, wholly owned by Vancouver-based gold producer B2Gold, operates the processing plant in the Masbate Gold Project, which began operations in 2007 with the first gold pouring in 2009.

The $250-million project is the single biggest investment in Masbate and is now one of the largest operating gold projects in the Philippines.


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