NEWS DAY: FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT STUDY TOUR SCHOLARSHIP
LOCATION: CORON, PALAWAN, PHILIPPINES
At the end of 2018, I received a scholarship from my university to go with a group of student journalists to the Philippines on what was called the Foreign Correspondent Study Tour. Spending one week in Manila and one week in Coron, Palawan we were tasked with producing four stories in total- sourcing, interviewing, filming and editing. It was a lot. And probably one of the most challenging yet rewarding things I’ve ever done.
One of these stories was our ‘news day,’ story, where we were taken to an unknown location, with our tripods, cameras and audio gear in tow and told to produce a story- sourced, written, filmed, edited and sent by midnight that day. Not my finest work given the amount of pressure we were under but also a nice little story and insight into this life in this beautiful Filipino village.
This was my result and thus the reason I met the delightful Bobby Ortega and the other fantastic guys protecting the reefs of Makinit from cyanide and dynamite fishing- an illegal practice that still occurs despite the growing number of protected reefs across the Philippines and South East Asia.
Aside from being totally destructive to the reefs and ocean ecosystems, the lack of sustainability threatens the very fabric of life in the local villages including the jobs of the locals and their ability to feed future generations.
Cyanide and dynamite fishing still occurs in many waters and reefs across the Philippines and South East Asia despite continued attempts to stop the practice. Sustainable tourism and education efforts have seen an increase in protected areas of Coron’s marine ecosystems and a new fervour from locals to protect it, but many areas of the reef remain vulnerable, writes Marina Trajkovich.
In the small fishing village of Makinit, in the province of Coron island, local fishermen, lifeguards and rangers work around the clock to protect the local islands and reefs.
The fishermen know that the reef is fragile and that their livelihoods and even food supply for generations to come depend on protecting the environment and stopping illegal fishing.
The marine ecosystems are still recovering from practices that involve dumping cyanide and dynamite into the reef and coral ecosystems still feel the blows of irresponsible fishing up to 20 years later.
Bobby Ortega, a local fisherman who has also transitioned into the tourism industry takes snorkel enthusiasts and visitors around the islands on his yellow, glass-bottomed boat.
He understands the importance of reef conservation for future generations.
“It’s very very important for us especially the people who live here. It’s important not to use dynamite and cyanide because corals are easily dying.”
“The recovery of corals takes many years. So very important for us dynamite and cyanide stops.”
The number of fishes are going down.some fishermen are using cyanide and dynamite, not all of the fisherman but there are some people.”
There are more tourists coming to Coron than ever before, providing jobs and money that can help support reef rehabilitation.
We are always saying telling them, don’t step on the corals if there is garbage pick it up, don’t step on the coral, if you see it on the corals the garbage, pick it up,” says Ortega.
For the local life guards, rangers and fishers who guard the Siete Pecados marine park and its visitors, monitoring the reef is a twenty-four seven job.
Daniel, a 20-year-old local who works the 6am- 3pm shift enjoys his job because he gets to relax on the water and is making an impact for the villages future generations.
“Because if you use dynamite fishing always everyday on the reef in this ocean, in the future you no have, nothing to eat with no fish. If you use dynamite everyday, no food for the fisher, no food for the kids, they don’t have future,” he says.
“The tourists, they come here and every time we talk to them they always say the colours here are so beautiful there are lots of kinds of fishes, that’s why we love it also.”
“That’s why we protect here for the future also.”
“10 people here in the morning and I think three or four people in the evening to do the night shift.”
“Because sometimes in the night people are fishing here, so that’s why you need some people here to guard the reef and look if something is happening,” he says.
Don Don, another life guard, says that although dynamite and cyanide fishing hasn’t happened in the park since it became protected, there are those who still fish illegally.
Other areas of marine life with less legal protection remain vulnerable, particularly in areas less visited by tourists.
“The first offence will be turned over to Barangay, and then second offence will be going to municipal ordinance then the third offence is going to jail,” he says.
Gary Fuentebella, a Calamaianes Conservation and Cultural Networks volunteer says that without the protected area and focus on sustainability, the reef would be in danger. He says that the livelihood and life in the village is dependent on the local’s respect and care for reefs.
“Without this marine protected area, the whole island, the whole coral system there will be banished.”