Saving marine riches in Zambales

Saving marine riches in Zambales

Saving marine riches in Zambales

COMMUNITY EFFORT The Laoag Integrated Fisherfolk Association, along with Olongapo Cenro Wildlife Conservation, are actively engaged in a “pawikan” conservation drive in San Felipe, Zambales. PHOTOS COURTESY OF LAOAG INTEGRATED FISHERFOLK ASSOCIATION

SAN FELIPE, ZAMBALES, Philippines — While this coastal town is known for its extensive shoreline facing the West Philippine Sea and is a crucial nesting ground for sea turtles, the practice of secretly harvesting the marine reptiles’ meat and eggs for food or for sale is threatening their population.

According to Renan Gilig, president of the Laoag Integrated Fisherfolk Association (Lifa) in this town, sea turtles and their eggs need saving, with their numbers dwindling dramatically in the wild.


Per the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), five of seven species of sea turtles can be found in this province: hawksbill turtle, green turtle, olive ridley turtle, loggerhead turtle and leatherback turtle. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “Red List” classifies these species as either “threatened” or “endangered.”


In January, an adult olive ridley sea turtle laid eggs on the shores of Sitio Laoag in Barangay Maloma. Fearing that these would fall victim to hunters, local fishermen rushed to secure the 63 eggs.

Along with the members of Lifa and the Olongapo City Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro) Wildlife Conservation, the fishermen transferred the eggs to a safer space to allow for the development process until the hatchlings were ready to swim and return to the ocean.

Worthy of a festival

Gilig and Fatima Cadavos, coordinator of the Olongapo Cenro Wildlife Conservation, have been leading efforts to raise people’s awareness about the significance of sea turtles in marine ecology and their relation to human lives.

Lifa organized the program and involved the fishermen and the community. They also invited schools and advocates of “pawikan” conservation in the province and coordinated with the local government of San Felipe to gain support from authorities to help sustain the fishermen’s pawikan conservation efforts.

Gilig said they took inspiration from Pawicare, a marine turtle protection and conservation hatchery in nearby San Narciso town, where the Pawikan Festival (sea turtle festival) is celebrated every January to promote awareness of the need to preserve sea turtles and the local environment.

On March 4, Lifa organized the first hatchling release in this town and will continue to organize workshops and activities on how to help preserve and protect sea turtles, with hopes that other coastal communities will do the same.


At least 10 breeding turtles were now returning yearly to the shores of Sitio Laoag, said Gilig, and the hope is that the number would increase with the community’s conservation efforts.

Dredging operations

Recently, however, residents were alarmed when at least 14 Chinese dredging vessels began operating in waters off San Felipe, disrupting their lives and livelihood.

Following the community’s protests, the provincial government suspended the activities. Gov. Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. said the suspension would allow local officials to address the concerns of residents, mostly fishermen, about the adverse impacts of the dredging project on their livelihood and the marine ecosystem.

According to Administrative Order No. 13 of the DENR, the dredging project is part of efforts to rehabilitate the “heavily silted channels of the Bucao River in Botolan town, the Maloma [River] in San Felipe town and Sto. Tomas [River] traversing the towns of San Marcelino, San Narciso and San Felipe” in Zambales province, mainly to prevent flooding.

San Felipe Mayor Reinhard Jeresano said the town was suffering from perennial flooding in its major rivers, especially Sto. Tomas which remains heavily silted from the sand and lahar that accumulated after Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991. The only solution, he maintained, is to dredge the mouth of the river.

“Dredging is not the problem here,” Ebdane told the residents. “To the contrary, it is precisely being done to control flooding, protect our communities, restore the pristine state of waterways and sustain the livelihood of the people.”

The sand extracted from the area would then be used for the reclamation projects in Pasay City in Metro Manila and the airport project in Bulacan.

Dwindling fish catch

But fishermen like 62-year-old Ramon dela Cruz said they had not experienced any incidents of flooding in their community.

Dela Cruz, who started fishing at a very young age, noticed how their catch began dwindling when the dredging operations started. Fishermen used to catch fish like “talakitok” (rattlefish), “maya-maya” (red snapper) and “tawilis” (freshwater sardine) within the municipal waters, and could earn from P1,000 to P1,500 depending on the market price of every fish.

“In the past, even if you didn’t have a boat, you could catch fish there just by using nets,” Dela Cruz said. But with the dredging, “we can’t catch anymore because the fish are too scarce.”

Affected residents also said no proper dialogue or consultation was done before the project pushed through—a point disputed by Jeresano, who said the residents were consulted before the implementation of the project.

Experts interviewed by the Inquirer said the dredging activities are causing major damage to the livelihoods and marine biodiversity of the local communities.

“If you dredge, and I understand they dredge not only in the river but also at the mouth of the river, the soft bottom areas will not only be disturbed but also destroyed,” said lawyer Rose Liza Eisma-Osorio, legal and policy director of Oceana Philippines, a nongovernmental organization focused on protecting the oceans.

“This is where communities gather bangus fry, and there are also olive ridley turtles that are considered almost extinct and other resources that are affected, like corals, seagrass and mangroves. The disturbance of the coastal habitats would harm the productivity of these areas and cause massive environmental damage,” said Eisma-Osorio.

Lack of transparency

Dredging should be the last resort, said Eisma-Osorio, and if lahar from Mt. Pinatubo is indeed the cause of flooding, local communities should be consulted and made to understand why the project was being done.

“The Pinatubo [eruption] has long been over,” she said. “Maybe the impacts are still there, but the lack of science, transparency and public consultation is very critical, because we need to understand why they are doing that. Is there a valid reason behind this?”

“It’s a clear violation of our laws and regulations on environmental impact assessments. The public consultation requirement is embedded in our environmental laws, in the Local Government Code. Even if national government agencies have projects, they have to consult the local governments, the nongovernment organizations and other sectors concerned. Why are these dredging activities supposedly not only meeting the objectives of dredging the river but also a source of materials for the reclamation in Manila Bay? These are two separate activities,” she added.


Alvin Simon, a marine scientist with Oceana, warned that with developments around the coast such as coastal roads or power plants, mining or dredging in the area, or any activities in the terrestrial environment, “The land you unearth or disturb will go… to our water bodies—it may be your river, your coral reefs, or the sea. And they will have a big impact on whatever the existing living things are in that environment.”

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The consequences of these kinds of irresponsible activities are “irreversible,” said Eisma-Osorio. “Whatever the community is experiencing right now will become worse unless they try to put in some measures to protect, conserve and rehabilitate the area.”

TAGS: environment

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