The squeals of screaming schoolgirls reverberated throughout the packed auditorium as a troop of Filipino dancers interpreted the significance of the ocean and marine biodiversity. On October 25, Rare Conservation Fellow Renante “Tian” Cempron kicked off a campaign to protect the marine resources of his community, Inabanga, in a performance-packed day. “The message of the campaign is hard to convey in dance,” says Cempron. “But it came out very well.”
The day began with an 8 a.m. mass followed by a spirited parade of local school bands playing music and dancing. “Dance routines are very popular in the Philippines,” says Rare’s senior program manager Brooke Sadowsky. A float introduced the campaign mascot, Meloy, the lovable panther grouper that is now a local celebrity. The rhythmic procession moved through the mid-morning swelter with an energy seldom seen in Inabanga. It seemed like half the community marched with the parade and the other half applauded and participated from the sidelines. When the parade reached the municipal auditorium, the 2,000 seats were filled; the basketball courts accommodated the overflow. “You could really feel the pulse of the community,” says Sadowsky.
Perhaps the youngest mayor ever elected in the Philippines (21 when elected in 2007), Honorable Jose Jono Jumamoy, belied his youth with a commanding eloquence as the cheers quieted for a moment of sobriety. The entire municipal government, as well as thousands of community members, stood with their right hands raisedto declare their commitment to protect marine resources. And pledged to call or text 09176311963, an anonymous hotline, to report illegal fishing incidents inside the marine sanctuary.
Two days later the hotline received several anonymous texts resulting in apprehensions for the use of illegal nets. The number of reports have more than doubled since the event. Although the hotline has existed for over a year, a fear of retaliation filled the community since most of the illegal fishers are community members. “We have really emphasized confidentiality,” says Cempron. “Law enforcers cannot do it on their own. We need the whole community.”
In coastal towns like Inabanga throughout the Philippines, families rely on fishing for food and supplemental, if not all, income. Human pressures have resulted in smaller fish and smaller catches, forcing many to resort to illegal and dangerous fishing techniques like dynamite fishing. The most memorable moment of the day for Cempron was during the awards ceremony when Rare CEO Brett Jenks presented a plaque of recognition to Jesus Sucajel for his contributions to the campaign.
Sucajel was a renowned illegal fisher in the village. He habitually ignited bombs on the reefs to increase his catch and decrease time spent out at sea. He started to see the negative impacts of his actions and decided to change his ways and help conserve marine resources. He tried to convince his brother to follow his lead, but his brother was killed in a dynamite fishing accident. The tragedy only reinforced Sucajel’s commitment to conservation. He is now a coastal enforcer championing the messages of the campaign to protect the reef so that fish stocks will rebound and continue to sustain the community.
“It was the only time in his life that he received an award,” says Cempron who always visits Sucajel’s home when he conducts surveys and monitoring trips near the marine sanctuary of Hambongan.
As the sun set and the day’s activities wound down, Cempron reflected on the success of his hard work in a joyful exhaustion. “One teacher told me that she has attended many events and conventions,” says Cempron. “But she said that my campaign launch was the most memorable.”
All photos: AG Saño 5