Coral reefs, underwater jewels under pressure

But illegal fishing by outsiders is an even greater threat and a growing problem. With speedboats and scuba gear, professional poachers can pillage a sanctuary overnight, Darrell Pasco, who manages coastal resources on the island of Siquijor, about 20 miles from Dauin, tells me. One of Siquijor’s MPAs was poached four times in a single year. The intruders, armed, come at night, in bad weather, he says. how the bantay dagat de Siquijor, who earn a pittance, could they oppose such individuals?

In Siquijor, as everywhere else, marine sanctuaries are necessary to support fishing grounds. As high-value fish like grouper and snapper become scarce, species once considered trash fish have become fit for consumption. Thus, the damselfish were never eaten, notes Darrell Pasco. Today, they sell for gold on the market, just like sea anemones cooked in coconut milk.

I have seen the challenge faced by the fishermen of Siquijor when I slipped one morning into a sea of ​​oil to watch men haul up a fish trap, or bubu, from the seabed, about 75 m below us. The 4.5m long woven basket rose slowly. As seven men hoist the bubu on the deck of their bench – the traditional twin-outrigger boat in the Philippines – a fisherman reaches out and pulls out a single triggerfish – a paltry catch for a week-long deployment.

the bubu next contained no fish. “Mingow! », shouted a fisherman when the trap appeared on the surface. Empty. I flinched as small jellyfish and broken tentacles of sea anemones fell from the trap and stung my skin. And I winced at the disappointment of the men and their families. Fishermen using bubu can barely earn one euro per trap per week. Families generally live at or below the poverty line, like 60% of the country’s coastal population.

Like the mayor of Dauin, Darrell Pasco has received threats for having worked in favor of the deployment of MPAs and the prevention of illegal fishing. To protect his property, he took a guard dog and sleeps in a hut outside his house. “I fear for my safety and that of my family, but I continue to do my job. »

For him, there is no other option. “We need to give honest and solid education to all Filipinos, teach them that it’s up to us to take care of the ocean, because it gives us almost everything we need. If we don’t, one day we won’t have any more fish to catch, and we’ll only see fish in books and on the internet. Not in the ocean. »

Tourism is helping to ease the pressure from dwindling fish stocks, but not every site can be a top diving spot. Another way to reduce the demand on coral ecosystems is for fishermen to adopt alternative livelihoods such as marine culture. On a remote atoll in the Sulu Sea, I encountered families living on bamboo platforms in coral lagoons. They cultivate seaweed which produces carrageenans, polysaccharides used as stabilizers in particular for medicines, toothpaste or even cosmetics. Thousands of Filipino families have become seaweed farmers.

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Coral reefs, underwater jewels under pressure

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