Fisherfolks' two-decade crusade against marine degradation

by May Anne Ramos, UN Online Volunteer

June 15, 2021

One of the biodiversity-friendly enterprises supported by UNDP through the DENR-SMARTSeas PH Project is the fish processing in Cortes, Surigao del Sur. Photo: DENR

In 1995, some fishermen in Barangay Tigao, Cortes, Surigao del Sur, formed a group to end the illegal fishing activities in their community. Suzette Canda-Plaza shared that her brother led the formation of Nagpakabanang Mananagat sa Tigao (NAMATI) to save what was left of marine biodiversity in their area and restore the marine ecosystem.

Nagtipon-tipon kami kasi, wala, lantaran talaga ang paggamit ng dinamita, cyanide. Bumuo ng grupo para humingi ng tulong at matigil na ‘yung mga ilegal na gawain. Grabe na ang epekto sa karagatan at sa kabuhayan namin (We formed a group because the use of dynamite and cyanide in fishing was very rampant. We asked for help to stop the illegal activities. The effects to the sea and our livelihood was too damaging),” said Suzette, vice-chair of NAMATI.

The fishermen observed in the early 90’s that their catch and the condition of coral reefs and marine resources were declining. The members of NAMATI believed that something must be done immediately. NAMATI’s perseverance and partnership with the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), and non-government organizations resulted in the establishment of the 57-hectare Tigao Marine Protected Area (MPA).

The biodiversity-friendly enterprise center of NAMATI is part of the Low Value Grant provided through the DENR-SMARTSeas PH Project. Photo: DENR

Twenty-six years later, NAMATI is still an active association recognized in their community and by other organizations because of its advocacy and strong compassion for the fish sanctuary and its sustainable livelihood. It has gone through a lot of challenges, but through its perseverance it was able to win the support and respect of local government leaders and national government agencies. 

Suzette proudly shared, “Pagkaraan ng maraming taon nakikita na namin ‘yung bunga ng mga pinaglalaban namin. Dumami na ang mga isda; gumanda na ang coral reefs. Nakakapangisda na kami nang maayos (After several years, we are now experiencing the result of our work. The number of fish is increasing; the coral reefs have improved. We can now fish regularly).”

NAMATI puts a premium on continuously communicating the importance of marine biodiversity conservation among the locals and other people’s organizations that depend on marine resources. Suzette and her fellow NAMATI members have shared their knowledge about the environment and marine protected area management as resource persons in several orientations and environment-related talks. NAMATI has joined nine other people’s organizations in Cortes to form a network called Nagkahiusang Mananagat ug Mag-uuma nga Nag-amping sa Kinaiyahan Association, to strengthen the safeguarding of their respective MPA within Lanuza Bay.

Through the various conservation activities led by NAMATI, it gained the respect and support of the community members. Teachers, students, parents, and religious groups, among others, join NAMATI in regular coastal clean-up and mangrove planting. NAMATI likewise participates in community activities like the Gulayan sa Paaralan and organic farming.

Nakasanayan na namin ang bayanihan. Kasama namin ang pamilya namin at mga ibang taga-barangay sa pagpapatrol ng MPA at iba pang gawain (We are used to bayanihan. We patrol the MPA and do community activities together with our family and people in our barangay),” said Suzette, adding that the spirit of bayanihan expands NAMATI’s reach and impact. “Hindi lang kami sa protected area naka-focus. Gusto rin naming makatulong sa ibang tao sa komunidad (We are not only focused on the protected area. We also want to help other people in the community.”

Fish processing includes deboning of fish to increase its product value. Women members of NAMATI use a portion of the BDFE center as deboning area. Photo: DENR

Among the awards that NAMATI received for their marine conservation initiatives are the ASUL (Advocates of the Sea and Life below water) Awards, Best DOLE-Assisted Livelihood Project in CARAGA (2019), Best MPA in Cortes (2018), and National Winner for the Ginebra Ako Para sa Kalikasan Awards (2017).

NAMATI achieved another milestone when it was awarded a low-value grant from DENR-SMARTSeas PH. The association was able to establish a biodiversity-friendly enterprise (BDFE) that now helps the association members earn additional income. It ventured into fish processing and floating cottage rental services to supplement its fish culture enterprise. Through managing the BDFE, NAMATI now has a more stable source of income and depends less on fishing.

Sobrang suwerte namin at pinagakatiwalaan kami ng SMARTSeas. Napakalaking tulong ng BDFE para sa amin. Kahit hindi kami mangisda, kumikita pa rin kami. Sana mas umasenso pa ‘to (We are very lucky that SMARTSeas trusted us. The BDFE is a huge help to us because we still earn even if we do not fish. I hope this will flourish),” said Suzette.

With a new livelihood and strengthened advocacy, NAMATI aims to train more youth in protecting marine biodiversity and in managing their enterprises.

Suzette has a piece of advice for the future generation and other people’s organizations that share NAMATI’s passion for service and marine biodiversity conservation: “Lagi mong iisipin kung ano ang puwede mong ibigay, hindi kung ano ang puwede mong makuha (Always think of what you can give, rather than what you can get).”