Tales of The Mangrove, The Villain, and The Talking Fish
In the north west part of Davao Gulf lies a sprawling greenery of mangrove forest, alongside the industrial zone of Davao del Sur.The Barangay Bato in Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur is home to a 25-hectare marine protected area with complete representation of three marine ecosystems – mangrove, seagrass, and coral reef.
The mangrove boardwalk was constructed through the support from the provincial local government unit of Davao del Sur, who also developed amenities for ecotourism in the Passig Islet located across the mangrove forest. It became a small dock where ferry boatmen are waiting for tourists to transport to the islet. Century-old mangrove trees and different species of birds can be observed in the area.
The rich marine biodiversity of Barangay Bato was threatened by industrial development, human settlements, and unregulated fishing in the area. The pressure on the utilization of marine resources continue to increase, to the point that the majority of fisherfolks in the community was using compressor.
In the early 1990’s, fisherfolks would venture to the sea for almost eight hours, only to catch three-kilogram of fish. The catch varies from danggit, mol-mol, and baling-baling. Today, each fisherfolk can catch at least 30 kilos of fish daily. The Bato Small Fisherfolks and Ferry Boat Association (BASFFA) attributed this to the establishment of MPA and other marine conservation effort being undertaken in their community.
BASFFA co-manages the marine protected area with the local government units (barangay, municipality, and provincial). BASFFA was founded on January 4, 2007 and was recognized by the Department of Labor and Employment.
Currently, there are 809 registered fisherfolks in theBato community. It includes fisherfolks from five indigenous groups – Bagobo, Tagakaolo, Dabaw’non, Manobo, and Mandayarin.
QuirsitoCajegas, also known among the BASFFA members as Bok, is the chairman of Bato MPA Management Body. In the early days when the MPA was being established by the provincial law enforcement of Davao del Sur, he led the small fisherfolks in Barangay Bato to oppose its establishment. He initiated a signature campaign signed by more than 240 fisherfolks from their communities to block the establishment of the 25-hectare MPA at the back of the Passig Islet. He organized other fellow fisherfolks and conducted a public dialogue, although without the presence of the provincial government representative since the tension then between their groups was high. At some point, he went to the proposed MPA cover and blocked the markers put in place by the province.
Bok is a self-confessed fisherfolk who used compressor in the past. The compressor was used to breath underwater while heonly used spear to catch fish. At least 17 fisherfolks in Barangay Bato received materials for compressor fishing from a local organization in Mindanao in 1988. The fishing gears include a motorized banca.
After a series of public consultations, Bok’s diminishing group was unsuccessful in blocking the establishment of MPA. In 2004, the barangay officially declared the Suwangan Mini Fish Park (100 m2); Seagras protected area (150 m2) and the waters near Passig Islet (25 hectares) as marine protected areas through issuance of ordinance. In 2007, then, a municipal ordinance affirmed the declaration of MPA of the 25-hectare inclusive of 100-meter buffer zone in each side.
Bok’s and his fellow fisherfolks were given the opportunity of an alternative livelihood. He negotiated with the Office of the Provincial Agriculture of Davao del Sur that they will be allowed to transport tourists from the mangrove area to the Passig Islet.
In 2007, a wooden boardwalk was constructed and opened to the public to pave way for a small dock and tourist jump off point to the islet. Fisherfolks who were once opposing the establishment of MPA benefitted from the ecotourism initiative of the province. The motorized banca that they received from the previous grant for compressor fishing is now equipped with news paints and life jacket to transport tourists.
The ecotourism site in Barangay Bato was promoted in local television channels with the help of the LGU. When asked about the highlight of the MPA, Bok said that it’s the white sand islet and the “talking fish.” He narrated his experience of diving in the waters near the islet, where fish come close to him, as if welcoming him underwater. Bok said he connects with them and the fish actually said “Salamatpo!” This became a tale that made the area famous for visitors. Every tourist who visit the area is now looking for a talking fish, and Bok would simply say that it’s in the MPA.
“I am very proud of our marine protected area. I was once a violator, a villain. My fellow fisherfolks and I were amazed how things changed. From compressor and unregulated fishing, we are the ones now protecting the MPA,” said Bok. #
Case Story by Rizza Sacra
SMARTSeas PH Project