Lanuza Bay is a shallow crescent of beach and forest off the northeastern shore of Mindanao, the Philippines’ second-largest island. A few dozen villages line the shores and islands in the bay, nestled among the coconut trees. The residents of Lanuza Bay keep their dugout and outrigger canoes on the beaches, making it clear that this is a fishing community. For the Filipinos living here, the ocean is the source of food, jobs and life.
But in the last couple of decades, fish have become harder and harder to come by in Lanuza Bay. This is the sad result of years of overfishing and destructive fishing, including blast and cyanide fishing that resulted in a quick payoff but long-term damage to Lanuza’s coral reefs.
Blast fishing was common practice across the Philippines’ 7,000 islands for years. Fishers would craft an improvised bomb out of a Coke or rum bottle and fertilizer and chuck it into the reef. The resulting sound waves stun the fish, which floated to the surface for easy harvest. But the blasts also decimiated the reefs, which take years to recover. Since the reefs are the source of food and protection for the fish, it meant that the fish populations began a steady decline.
This kind of fishing has been outlawed, but it was hard to enforce a ban in the Philippines’ small coastal communities. In the last two years, however, a few communities in Lanuza have partnered with Rare Conservation, a U.S.-based group, and redoubled their efforts to end blast fishing by enacting round-the-clock enforcement of the local fish sanctuary. These small no-take zones provide a kind of protected “fish bank” where fish can reproduce and grow, bolstering the overall population.
It’s working, too: fishermen who reported catching just one to two kilos of fish a day ten years ago can now bring home four to six kilos a day, enough to feed their families and send some to market. Fishers and their families now volunteer as part of the enforcement team in the no-take zone. The volunteers even include fishers who may have used dynamite fishing themselves, says Pedro Trinidad Jr., mayor of a Lanuza Bay town. “Illegal fishers are now stewards of the sea,” he says.