Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Crime Against Future Generations

I worked in Cebu (Mactan) for over a year as a Dive Instructor many eons ago. I have had the unfortunate experience of being in the water when  dynamite was being used. I was at over 100 feet with a student when it went off on a wall and I believe that the overhang above us saved us from most of the pressure shock. Needless to say, it hurt a great deal and it is an experience I do not wish to repeat. 

Upon surfacing (suitably red faced and put out), I saw my banka boy with wide eyes (yes we had a dive flag up) and the perpetrator chugging rapidly off in the distance. Obviously my banka driver had been asleep and was awoken with the loud bang (he probably got wet form the water spout) and told the guy who dropped the bomb that we were down there so he left rapidly! 

Me being me, I did not particularly want to let this rest so I started digging around and found the family responsible. It did change my view quite a bit. A few of the male family members had lost hands in the practice of their fishing method which meant they then had to be supported by the rest of the family. I did get an apology regarding my incident and they showed me their living conditions. Turns out that they resorted to dynamite fishing when there were no fish left to catch, only garbage. You should see the layers of the garbage in the thermo-clines off the walls in Cebu, absolutely amazing. Layer after layer of plastic bags and very few pelagics swimming by. 

The family gave me a simple explanation, dynamite fish or stave. They were not selling their catch, such as it was, but using it to survive. How can you ask a family to stave. None of us would allow our kids to stave. 

What I did was to hire some of that family as workers in our operation that gave them money to go and buy what they needed at the market. They turned out to be great employees. Problem in that area solved!!

I also had a number of experiences in Coron (Northern Palawan) where we used to take the Coast Guard with us (they did not have their own boat) in an attempt to apprehend people using dynamite. On the odd occasion we were successful, it turned out to be the same story, just a guy trying to feed his family and no fish around to catch by traditional methods.

The lack of education with the local population about the damage (long term) that it dynamite does definitely does not help. I know a number of dive shops have started education programs with Kids to show them that if they leave it alone, the fish will come back.

Another more sinister experience involved Cyanide Fishing (generally used to take live fish) This is 100% commercial and absolutely the dregs of society are involved. It takes out vast patches of reefs, kills everything. We used to dive on a beautiful reef called Coron Reef. One day, we jumped in and we were greeted by this vast forest of white Coral, and no fish. It was eerie. It actually took my stunned mind several minutes to comprehend what had happened, Cyanide!  The good news is that several years later, I was passing through on a boat and took the time to have a look. The reef was regenerating, new coral, small fish, which bring in the bigger fish. Nature can be very resilient if given a chance. The Cyanide left all the building blocks intact so the Coral could regenerate and there were lots of hiding places for the small fish. The Cyanide fishers (incidentally from Samar and Leyte, they had destroyed all their fish stocks, according to the coastguard) moved on. This is commercial rape of the reef in its worst form. 

There are many sides to this story, commercial rape, corrupt officials, cash provided for regeneration projects (too tempting to many), men trying to feed families and survive, a very complicated set of circumstances and the chain of events has to be broken. I believe it is with education of the kids. The big question is, will there be anything left other than in an aquarium for the kids to look at on our reefs?? Is there still time?? I really feel that it is running out for the Coastal reefs of the Philippines ..

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