RESTORING VISAYAN SEA’S LOST GLORY
By Jeehan V. Fernandez March 03, 2006 | Businessworld
TF! Editorial Comment: The Visayan Sea, aside from being a rich fishing ground, is a global center of marine biodiversity. Relentless overfishing together with destructive fishing practices have imperiled this richness. The article below discusses joint civil society-government efforts to protect and rehabilitate the Visayan Sea.
ILOILO CITY — Government officials and environmental advocates in Cebu, Negros Occidental and Iloilo have drafted an action plan for the conservation and protection of the Visayan Sea, one of the crucial fishing grounds in the country.
“The overall vision is simple — to begin a mind shift in the next generation of Filipinos for them to care for our seas. The next generation of Filipinos must better understand the natural wealth that we hold in our hands, and perhaps, begin to take care of it,” said environmental lawyer Antonio Oposa, Jr.
Mr. Oposa leads the Visayan Sea Squadron, which groups the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Network Environmental Action Team, the Network of Legal Experts of the Law of Nature Foundation and the governors of Cebu, Negros Occidental and Iloilo. The group was formed in March 2005 to protect and preserve the Visayan Sea.
Members of the squadron gathered at a Mactan resort to draft an action plan. Mr. Oposa said they had the support of the United Nations Environmental Legal Office for Asia and the Pacific and the Office of the Ombudsman.
“The event drew up a clear and definite action plan to protect and restore the majesty of the once-fabled Visayan Seas. It also signaled the start of a new stage in the cooperation between citizens’ organizations assisting local governments comply with their environmental mandates,” Mr. Oposa said in a statement.
The action plan called for the declaration of the entire Visayan Sea as a protected marine eco-region, eradication of illegal and destructive fishing, the establishment of an extensive network of marine sanctuaries all over the Visayan Sea, the conduct of a five-year marine monitoring study and the conduct of an environmental compliance audit on all local and national government agencies.
The sea, which is about a million hectares at the heart of the Sulu-Sulawesi eco-region, used to be rich in sardines, herrings and mackerel. But rampant blast fishing, unabated commercial fishing, cyanide fishing, overfishing, and other destructive forms of fishing depleted the marine resources in the area. Managed well, Mr. Oposa said the Visayan Sea could feed the entire nation.
The sea stretches from the mouth of the Danao river in Negros Occidental to the northeastern tip of Bantayan island and Madridejos in Cebu through the lighthouse on Gigantes island in Iloilo and further to Olutaya island and Culasi point in Capiz.
It extends along the northern coast of Capiz to Bulacaue point in Carles, Iloilo, to the mouth of Talisay river, westward across the Guimaras strait to Tomonton point in Occidental Negros, eastward along the northern coast of Negros island and back to the mouth of Danao in Escalante, Negros Occidental.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) regional office in Western Visayas has noted that illegal fishing remains rampant in the Visayan Sea.
Juliet B. Demo-os, BFAR assistant regional director, said the squadron has convinced volunteers with a total of 150 small boats stationed on Bantayan in Cebu to guard the seas from massive commercial fishing.
“The Visayan Sea needs to be rehabilitated. Its resources have been depleted. The squadron is expected to strengthen law enforcement against illegal fishing in the area,” she said.
The BFAR regional office had implemented from January 2002 to August 2005 a German-funded project called the Visayan Sea coastal resources and fisheries management project (Vis Sea) to improve coastal resources management in the towns of Ajuy, Balasan, Batad, Carles, Concepcion, Estancia and San Dionisio, which are all considered as fishing hubs in Iloilo.
In its 2005 annual report, the bureau reported that the project aimed to avert problems like decreasing productivity, widespread overfishing, reduced fish sizes and catches, dwindling resources, illegal fishing gears and methods and difficulties in implementing fishing regulations.
The three-day action planning session was participated by Manjit Iqbal, UN environmental legal officer for Asia and the Pacific; Johannes Paul, German solid waste management expert; Angel Alcala, marine scientist; Cavite Rep.Gilbert Remulla, committee on ecology chairman; Wilbert Candelaria, environmental Ombudsman; and the governors of Cebu, Negros Occidental and Iloilo, and mayors from Cebu, Negros Occidental, Iloilo and Masbate.