Editor's note: This is part 3 in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.
Ayoke Island may be the most idyllic place I’ve ever seen. It’s a small island in the northern part of Lanuza Bay covered with a riot of coconut and palm trees.
The town is a small cluster of bamboo and thatch homes. I was lucky enough to get to snorkel in the aqua waters of the Ayoke Island MPA with Lito, a Rare staffer, while fishers held a community meeting in the guardhouse. Unlike the waters of Cortes, which contain mostly an undulating seagrass meadow, Ayoke is home to a stunning reef with ten-foot table corals and seemingly endless clusters of branch corals.
But even in this paradise, there are signs of trouble. We saw very few fish, although I did spot one fat sea cucumber resting on a table coral. I didn’t see any giant clams, although Lito said he saw a dead one. Broken patches of branch corals littering the ground were evidence of dynamite fishing.
Even so, Ayoke Island’s MPA was named one of the Philippines’ top 10 marine protected areas, no small feat in a country with 1,600 MPAs, the most in the world. But as recently as December the community faced a real test when the MPA was dynamited during the town’s fiesta, when no one was volunteering at the guardhouse. No one knew about the bombing until a family that was new to town showed up at the market with several boxes of fish that everyone immediately recognized as the result of dynamite fishing. As fishers told Cherry Ravelo, Rare’s conservation fellow for Ayoke and nearby General Island, they felt like they had been robbed.