Ingenious Marine Conservation Project; Religious Icons Protect Double Barrier Reef

Marine conservation in the Philippines; protecting a double barrier reef

How do you keep blast fishermen from further ruining the Philippines only double barrier reef? Seek the help of Señor Santo Niño and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

This was the ingenious solution devised by the local government of Bien Unido, a town on the northeast of Bohol, Philippines, some 108 kilometers away from the provincial capitol of Tagbilaran, and a fairly young town with only 5 of its 13 barangays located in mainland Bohol.

To keep dynamite fishermen from further destroying the Danajon Double Barrier Reef, local officials led by Mayor Rey Nino Boniel submerged religious images of the Holy Child (Santo Niño) and the Virgin of Fatima in the said reef.

The town is known for its devotion to the two religious patrons; while fishing is the primary source of livelihood for its 32,000 residents.

The Danajon Double Barrier Reef, which extends from Tubigon to Bien Unido, host to most of the inner and outer reef system of shoals, islets and shallow waters, provides sanctuary to fish and other marine life in the region.

Marine Conservation - Danajon Double Barrier Reef, Bohol, Philippines
Marine Conservation - Danajon Double Barrier Reef, Bohol, Philippines

Blast, or dynamite fishing, has however, endangered the lives of marine life and adventure divers, who want to experience Danajon’s deep sea caves, caverns and walls, says Alfie Fernandez, a marine protection and conservation advocate member of the Sea Knights (or Knight-Stewards of the Sea).

“We recorded at least 20 blasts a day then,” said Mayor Boniel, who has sought an end to blast fishing to make the towns attractive to divers and promote local tourism.

“There have been strict coastal laws implemented but it did very little to discourage illegal fishermen who hide in islands and islets (to evade arrest during the government’s anti-illegal fishing operations),” he pointed out.

That’s when they took to the idea of using people’s devotion to the Santo Niño and Virgin Mary as a a form of marine conservation and a way to protect Mother Earth.

“Knowing our people and their fear of the sacred, we submerged religious images in the reefs creating an underwater grotto of the Fatima and an underwater coral garden guarded by a 14 foot-4 ton Santo Nino,” shared Mayor Boniel.

Apart from this, the Sea Knights helped Bien Unido reclaim its treasure by educating people of the sustainable use of coastal and marine resources through responsible communities.

The ultimate aim is to empower coastal communities and assist local government units in adopting environmentally friendly practices, building and strengthening linkages and relationships, promoting and practicing volunteerism and participation, said Fernandez.

So they would not feel deprived of their livelihood, SeaKnights and the local government of Bien Unido introduced alternative sources of livelihood to the communities such as seaweed farming, he added.

This has reduced the tension in the fishing town, he said.

Today, Bien Unido has been declared the seaweed capital in the country, with an annual harvest of 73 tons, Boniel said.

As a way forward with marine conservation, a series of trainings have been done to equip the people with the basics in dive guiding and tourism.

Recently, Bien Unido was launched as the home of the Bohol Yatch Club, another brilliant move to bring the right people to help protect the reef.

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