Editor's note: This is part 4 in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.
The last site we visited was overseen by Rare conservation fellow Marybeth Rita. Marybeth has a tough job because her campaign covers three towns separated by a hilly unfinished highway that she traverses by motorbike. After some heavy overnight rain, our van could hardly make it through the deep mud (with no guard rail down to the bay!) so I appreciated the difficulty of Marybethâ€™s assignment.
The mayor of Lanuza, Salvacion Azarcon, met us at her office in the morning. She was a really inspiring woman, and not just because she offered us some local palm wine at 8:30 in the morning. Called pirik-pirik, the wine was mixed with raisins to give it a very mildly sweet taste. It was good enough that we kept the bottle and had more later in the day.
Marybeth and the mayor were working together not just to enact 24/7 volunteer guarding at the MPA, but to start a critically important program to register fishermen. Right now, most local fishermen arenâ€™t registered in any way, so itâ€™s hard to tell if theyâ€™re legally in the municipal waters or not. Once registered, fishers will get an awning designed by Marybeth and the pride campaign that promotes the protection of the MPA.
The registration program will also allow fishers to become eligible for a low-interest 2,500 peso loan (about $58). This is a key element of keeping poverty at bay, because unfortunately many fishers can end up in hock to unscrupulous lenders who make loans at outrageous interest rates.
Editor's note: This is part 1 in a series of dispatches from the Philippines.
The northeast coast of Mindanao island in the Philippines is home to a series of small towns comprised almost completely of fishing families.
Last week, I visited several of the municipalities along with Rare, a US-based group that is working to protect the regionâ€™s local fishing livelihoods and help keep the communities out of the poverty spiral that can happen when thereâ€™s no more fish, and therefore, no more food.
Rare sponsors conservation fellows in 12 areas in the Philippines. These fellows, who are members of the community, become part of Rareâ€™s two-year program to end destructive and illegal fishing and safeguard the local marine protected area, which is kind of a â€śfish bankâ€ť for the town. In return, the fellows earn a masterâ€™s degree from the University of Texas.
These marine protected areas (MPAs) are quite small â€“ 100 acres here, 200 acres there â€“ but they make a huge difference to the communities, which include fishers working from paddle dugout and outrigger canoes with basic hook-and-line or net gear. Before Rareâ€™s campaigns got started last fall, many of the MPAs werenâ€™t really guarded closely and illegal fishing within the boundaries, which are usually marked by buoys or bamboo poles, was difficult to stop. But now Rareâ€™s fellows have been organizing 24/7 enforcement of the MPAs and for the most part, illegal and destructive fishing has been greatly curbed.
Rareâ€™s projects are called Pride Campaigns because they take care to show the towns that they have something special and worth protecting. The MPA guards are all volunteers, with overnight shifts lasting 12 hours or more, and we learned that some of the guards are local fishermen who were once illegally fishing within the MPA before learning the value of protecting it.
In addition to staffing the MPA, the Rare fellows create a mascot for the campaign thatâ€™s based on the areaâ€™s flagship species, like rabbitfish, lobster or giant clams. These cute anthropomorphized creatures have quickly become the most popular parts of the campaigns. In the little villages of Mindanao, the arrival of the mascots is a major event.
Iâ€™ll talk a little more about each fellow that I met in upcoming posts, but I first want to thank Rare for letting me tag along on these site visits. It was really an extraordinary experience.