27/28 April 2009

We spent an enlightening day and night on Green Island, Palawan. About 2,000 people, children included, live there. There are 360 households, and if you do the math, that’s about an average of 5.5 people per household.  One family has 14 children!

Underwater flashlight!

Underwater flashlight!

You could walk this small, elongated fishing village from end to end in 5 minutes, but we chose to do it slow, photographing the life of fishermen and their families.

Wonderful happy smiles.

Wonderful happy smiles.

Healthy, beautiful children were, of course, everywhere. Seaweed was a common source of livelihood, but only by peering into people’s backyards did we see.

Different species of sea cucumber.

Different species of sea cucumber

beche de mer or sea cucumbers, live reef fish, shark’s fins, and very subtle evidence of the impact of climate change on rising water levels.

Rising water levels. 3 years ago, this house was on dry land.

Three years ago, this house was on dry land.

We stayed overnight in the house of a “Kagawad” or council member, Bobot Argonzola.  He owns a sari-sari or small convenience store, and he used to be a shark fisherman until 2003. He had a four-man bottom gill net boat called a panudsud, and they would go out to sea for 15 days to a month, fishing for sharks. The target species were shovelnose rays (sudsud) and hammerhead sharks. The most common by-catch were turtles and all sorts of rays.

Once a shark fisherman sees a shovelnose ray in the net, a diver ties the tail to the net. A 100-kilogram, 3-meter long shovelnose ray will fetch a total of 30,000 pesos for fins and meat. A kilogram of dried fins is worth 11,500 Philippine pesos (about US$239). A shark this big would have more than 2 kilograms of dried fins.  Shark meat is sold fresh to the local market and used for fish balls.  The sharks fin buyers come to the island once they receive an SMS message from the fishermen that there are fins for sale.

We photographed Green Island Bantay Dagat Nonoy Enema. Nonoy observed fish coming back after three years of intensive protection. After a day’s work of patrolling his area, he would bring out his “lambat” or gill net twice a week, from 5:30 to 6:30pm.  His net is 1,400 meters long and 1.5 meters deep. He once caught as much as 600 kilograms of fish.

Through the help of WWF PhilippinesMarine Protected Areas (MPAs) were established in 2007. Fisher folks protested in the beginning, but after seeing that the fish had indeed come back, they are now clamoring for an increase in the core zones and buffer zones.  The MPAs are now run and operated by the people’s organizations. Ordinary community members personally apprehend illegal poachers within the protected areas if there are no municipal “Batay Dagat” around.

Now that WWF no longer has a project here, the local government has taken over the management of the MPAs.  They give thanks to WWF for helping them set up these important fish nurseries in their waters.