Fish teem, doubts fade in sandbar refugeBy Jonas Cabiles Soltes
Inquirer Southern Luzon
MASBATE CITY—When the Buntod Sandbar and Reef Marine Sanctuary was established in 2001, the city government of Masbate was met with criticisms from fishers in the coastal capital and in the neighboring towns of Mobo and on Ticao Island.
“The move was seen as depriving fishers of their sources of livelihood,” Masbate Mayor Socrates Tuason says.
What made the city decide to preserve the white sandbar and adjacent coral reefs located about 1 kilometer from the coast was the rampant illegal fishing in the area. “Dynamite fishing proliferated. Every morning, we would hear at least 20 blasts,” recalls Tuason, who was by then the chair of Barangay Nursery, which covers the sandbar.
Back then, Tuason says, he and other local leaders found it hard to explain to the fishers that the long-term advantage of converting the abused area into a marine sanctuary would far outweigh short-term benefits.
After five years, when the fish have returned and spawned in the 270-hectare haven that lips the Masbate Pass between the Masbate mainland and Ticao, the community’s attitude changed.
Councilor Alberto Abayon says groupers, yellow fin tuna, and albacore fish have been thriving in the sanctuary to the delight of small fishers, who are allowed to fish beyond the markers delineating the reserve. The place has become home to giant clams and rare shellfish, too, although everyone is strictly prohibited from disturbing them.
Since fish can swim out freely, fishers on the fringes have had bountiful harvests while allowing others to grow and reproduce undisturbed within the off-limits area, Abayon says.
Other towns, even those on Ticao, which had earlier been unreceptive to the idea of converting the Buntod Sandbar into a reserve, have started their own marine sanctuaries. “What was done in Buntod has spread like a virus,” Tuason says.
All the 20 municipalities of the island-province of Masbate, 426 km southeast of Manila, are coastal.
The city government has dispatched wardens in the sanctuary to block intruders, which have dwindled in numbers.
Recently, the Buntod Sandbar and Reef Marine Sanctuary and the nearby Bugsayon Marine Sanctuary have been recognized as the two top marine reserves in the country by government and private institutions. These have also become models of marine preservation efforts in the country.
(The other success story in Masbate when it comes to marine preservation is the Recodo Marine Fishery Reserve and Sanctuary in Cawayan town, 40 km from Masbate City. It has
made possible the return of fish in the exploited expanse of the Asid Gulf.)
Tuason says the sandbar, reefs and all of the sanctuary are open to tourists who may want to see how conservation efforts work. But the area will never be commercialized, he says.
“There have been offers to the city government to open the area to commerce, but we have declined,” says Tuason, fearing that commercialization may lead to its destruction.
On Feb. 24, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, Tuason and other city and provincial officials, released green sea turtles in the area in what was seen as an allegory to the triumph of nature in Masbate.
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