IN JUST 10 months after a municipal ordinance established a marine sanctuary in the Asid Gulf off Cawayan, Masbate, in June 2008, life has begun thriving anew in the waters off the town?s Barangay Recodo.
?The fishes are back,? said Winfredo V. Tulod, the barangay (village) chairman.
Different fish species and mollusks, including juveniles of ?bisugo? (threadfin bream), squids, sardines, and stingrays locally known as ?ito,? ?lipot,? ?dahonan? and ?banogon,? have been found anew in the Recodo Marine Fishery Reserve and Sanctuary (MFRS), Tulod said.
On April 9, divers explored the MFRS and took photographs of ?many large fish,? he said.
He cited a coastal assessment report of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in March, which also indicated that the mangrove area in the sanctuary could now sustain marine life.
It might take only three years, not five as earlier forecast, before the sanctuary could be opened to ecotourism, the BFAR said.
Recodo came up with the sanctuary plan when its fishermen complained of little or no catch due to the presence of big trawlers. Tulod said the trawlers ?were not anymore allowed here.?
The village manages the marine haven and deputizes guards to protect it from intruders. The watchmen are being supervised by the Municipal Agricultural Office.
The sanctuary covers 800 hectares of municipal waters of Cawayan. The buffer zone serves as border and encloses the core zone of 212 hectares or the sanctuary proper.
Large fishing vessels are banned from the buffer zone, but small-scale fishers can fish in the core zone only with equipment that do not destroy the coral reefs where fish live and breed. ?Only hook and line fishing are allowed in the core zone,? said Tulod.
A watch post made of stilt and nipa shingles was built near the core zone to make sure that no one would enter without permission from the sanctuary staff.
?Protecting the sanctuary and keeping away intruders are tedious tasks, but we make it easier through cooperative efforts,? said Tulod, also a member of the Recodo Asid Gulf Fisherfolk Association like most small-scale fishers in the town.
Violators pay fines, which, in turn, are used for sanctuary maintenance.
?We have not had a problem with trawlers. It is as if even the trawlers know the importance of the MFRS,? said Felix Edaño, 52, a fisherman who is now one of four members of the MFRS? Bantay Dagat. He receives about P1,000 honorarium for his services.
Whenever trawlers pass by the buffer zone, the Bantay Dagat members would tell them that they are restricted from entering and they would obey, Edaño said.
The Recodo fishermen, at first, were cool to the sanctuary concept, but now they seem very supportive after learning of the benefits, he added.
?Before, small-scale fishermen would find it hard to compete with trawlers in the area. Now, even anglers who use the hook and line method of fishing would have plenty of catch while fishing in the buffer zone,? he said.
?The marine sanctuary really helped the fishermen as their fish catch increased.?
Edaño said that even residents of the island on the fringes have gradually realized the importance of the MFRS. ?Their reactions used to be very negative. Now we do not meet any more opposition from them,? he said.
The staff members receive regular training, seminars and orientations on the importance of establishing sanctuaries.
Non-government agencies, such as the Plan International, have provided motorboats and other equipment to help the sanctuary in its day-to-day operations.
?We are proposing to expand the sanctuary,? said Tulod. A management plan is being drafted to extend its term.
Talks are ongoing to fully convert the sanctuary into a protected area.