Enforcement of MPAs

In response to my cousin Benny’s questions…my last post could use a little more background information.  Here is how enforcement of the MPA works.

Most people guarding the sanctuary are normal community members; I would say that usually they do not carry weapons unless they are authorized to do so as a deputized Fish Warden and issued one.  If you are guarding and catch a violator, you have options.  As I saw a few times, the women pulled out whistles and yelled at violators who were walking the tide flat and searching for creatures to eat.  These are considered warnings and are often undocumented.

If you catch someone fishing in the MPA and you are not a deputized Fish Warden (Bantay dagat) then you can not arrest them.  You have to contact the police; they have to come directly to the site or get some bantay dagat together in a boat and cruise to the site.  The bantay dagat do not receive many benefits; one of the things that diver’s users fees can go towards is ensuring that a bantay dagat’s family will receive money if he/she dies while on duty.

These are their outfits; only Belyn on the left is a deputized fish warden, the other women are wearing their husband’s gear.

And here’s how it played out in one story Belyn told me:

She and her husband were on patrol one night, probably shining the flashing around the area like usual, when they caught an illegal fisherman.  When they approached him, he dropped his net and ran.  She ran the half mile or so to the police station, but by the time they came back, the man had returned to take his net and disappeared.  Even though she can identify the violator, she can not do anything about it other than write it down in the police logbook.

One of the big challenges is the intrusion of commercial fishing boats within what is legally declared the property of the local government (15 km from the coast).  The boats can come from anywhere in the Philippines, or even Malaysia or China, and what is the local government to do? They are no match against the guns and political power of commercial fishing fleets.


Fighting over fish

This is an excerpt from a group interview with the fishermen who guard their MPA in Caticugan, Siquijor.

Me: Has there been conflict about the sanctuary?

Fisher 1: Hard headed fishermen. That is the conflict.

Fisher 2: Mountain minded fishermen.

Fisher 1: Because some of the hard headed fishermen shot our president and …

Me: Sorry?

Fisher 2: They had a triple 7 gun.

Me: They shot at you?

Fisher 2: Yeah.

Me: Were you guarding or were you…?

Fisher 2: Roaming the road, (I was) walking the road and got shot by those boys.

 And then he describes how he was shot four times in the leg and shows me the scars.

Me: (Were they) fishermen from this community?

Fisher 1: Illegal fishers.

Me: What kind of illegal fishing do they do?

Fisher 1: (They use) triple nets and trammel nets.

Me: Is it dangerous to be a part of the sanctuary?

Fisher 1: Yeah. (It is) dangerous. I am scared but I still watch the marine sanctuary… I believe in God so there is no danger.

These men are husbands, fathers, and children.  They volunteer to guard the local coral reef for 24 hour shifts once a week.  They hope that there will be enough fish someday that their children will be able to earn more than $2 a day.  Hats off to you, guys.  I know few men so brave.

Becoming Butterflies

I guess one of the most surprising results I have had here are learning about people’s perceptions of women.  I have asked many people over the past two months, formally (in interviews) but also informally, “how are women involved in coastal resource management?”  Most of these people are aware what coastal resource management (CRM) means in the Philippines, but I’ll just brief that for my readers:

CRM includes a variety of activities, like making fisheries policies, replanting mangrove forests, or establishing sanctuaries.  These activities are led by the local government and NGOs staff, and often funded by foreign aid (especially major players like USAID, GIZ).  Whereas in Seattle, I would expect the government agencies to do all of these activities on their own, here in the Philippines, everybody is involved, and the reality is that they have to be.  The government is limited in its capacity, and that is why they pull in every citizen to help with CRM.   So when we say “CRM” here, that can include the high school students who plant mangroves, the fish wardens out patrolling the waters, and especially sanctuaries.  With sanctuaries, many members of the community have to come together and voluntarily work to maintain the sanctuary and protect it from intruders who might want to plunder its bounty.

There are 16 sanctuaries on Siquijor right now and over 1,000 in the Philippines.  So I guessed in asking so many people their opinions on “how are women involved?” that I could try and get a clear picture.  But it started out really foggy; all I could uncover was anecdotes; that women show up to sanctuary meetings if their husbands are out fishing, that women join their husband in the guardhouse, that they cook for everybody during CRM activities.  A lovely friend and colleague here even said “Barbie, I don’t know! What is women in CRM? I haven’t even thought about it!”

So then on Siquijor I asked people the same question. Two young female government employees who work closely with CRM projects gave me these insights; they have witnessed women:

-do the most of the work in any seaweed farming project

-participate in mangrove replanting

-act as secretaries and maintain good documentation of projects

-handle money and sell products of projects (fish, seaweed, etc.)

-take initiative in projects

-delegate tasks

-are detail oriented

-participate in decision making

-voice their opinions at meetings

-increase understanding among group members

-keep projects organized better

Unfortunately, while these young women have their eyes open, the truth is that we are all up against the barrier of discrimination and what people expect of us.

“it’s very impossible for women to guard (the sanctuary) day and night… if there are intrusions of illegal fishers its very risky for the women to react on the illegal fishers in the marine sanctuary during nighttime… with their forces combined of the illegal fishers, what can the women do against the men? It’s very hard for women because we are weaker than men so when we’re in trouble, we’ll be put in deep sea (drowned)” (female government staff)

me: “What would be the benefit of including women?”

Men: “it would be clean here… and they could cook for us. And if our wives were involved… we would (have sex in the guardhouse while guarding the sanctuary at night)”.

And that’s all.  The men couldn’t think of any other benefit.

It reminds me of a child I knew who put a caterpillar in a jar because she didn’t know it would become a butterfly…


Sanctuary, so what?

Sanctuary, reserve, marine park, MPA (marine protected area), it’s all the same, but not exactly. People use these terms somewhat interchangeably, so let me explain.  MPA is kind of a catch-all term that includes all of these other terms and is what academics often use.

They all have the same concept though; to protect a certain habitat (wetlands, beaches, or open water) by establishing limits on what you can do or take there.  It’s just like what most people call a “park”.  But you know how “parks” can be just a corner lot with a playground, but they can also be something like Yellowstone?  Marine parks are like that.

Even in the U.S. we have to use multiple names to describe the same idea.  National Parks usually refers to land. But we also have National Marine Sanctuaries, which obviously refers to water.  Then if you want to protect an estuary (where the river meets the sea) you usually have to call it a Wetlands Reserve. Confusing, yes.  They are also all run by different government agencies, but that’s another mess of a topic.

The MPA most people know best is the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBR). What I didn’t realize, even when I was snorkeling there, was that you can actually go fishing on the GBR! I always thought it was just the conservation attitude of the Australians that allowed for this enormous area to be protected just for snorkeling and diving.  It is actually zoned, just like a city zones business and residential areas.  There is an aerial map of the GBR that shows the zones for fishing, or for tourism, or for shipping lanes.

Some MPAs don’t have multiple zones, they just have one zone.  Like in Maite, my study site.  Sorry for the confusing terms; I call it an MPA, but I sometimes also call it a sanctuary, because that is what the local name for it is- “Maite Marine Sanctuary”.  All sanctuaries are MPAs, but not all MPAs are sanctuaries, get it?

There is a buoy line extending out from the beach that marks off a rectangle of water. No fishing or collection of sea shells or urchins is allowed. But snorkeling, diving, and swimming are allowed.  Just like a park entrance, there is a “user fee” associated with each of these activities; you can pay about 50 cents to swim, $1.25 to snorkel, or $2.50 for a dive. This money is the only income the community gets from the MPA.

The sanctuary rules and user fees

The community has earned 250,000 pesos through user fees since the establishment of this MPA in 2009.  In just 3 years, that is almost $6,000 USD.  Just pocket change for the foreigner who loves to scuba dive adds up to something really good for this community.  Maybe the tourists don’t really see the purpose on the fee, or they don’t see how much this pocket change does, but I wish they did, because I think it would be a powerful message that would inspire a few extra donations.

Earned income chart for Maite sanctuary

The income gets divided though.  First they pay off the maintenance costs.  Then 40% goes to the municipal government. The remaining 60% gets divided between all 3 parts of the management team.  20% goes to the barangay council (like the town council), 20% goes to MRDA (the women’s group), and 20% goes to MAFIA (the men’s fishing association).

The sanctuary management team’s current budget allocations

One of the things MRDA does with this money is re-invest in its members.  They offer a 500 peso loan at 5% interest to the members only.  500 pesos is only about $12 USD. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is enough for some of the women to run small businesses.  They might buy raw materials, like dry goods or fresh fruit, and then make snacks they can sell on the side of the road or at the local school.

Maybe this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but a $12 loan is a big deal.  According to Siason (2001), women in the Philippines are not recognized as borrowers, and often have to borrow loans informally through family and friends.  According to a World Bank study on how people spend their income, this is another really important part of the puzzle.  It said that women re-invest 90% of their cash income into their family and their children.  And men put 15% of their income towards the family.

Now maybe you can see why we learn so much from separating the statistics on men and women.  At a large scale, this has already been applied in a few arenas.  Microfinance in India is focused on women, for the factors like how reliable they are on paying back loans.

In a place where people sometimes don’t have enough food on the table for full meals, malnutrition is a major public health concern.  There is literature indicating that when there’s not enough food on the table, the woman is more likely than the man to skip a meal and give that food to her children.  After the earthquake in Haiti, food vouchers were only distributed to women (see blog link below).  I’ll be looking forward to Danika Kleiber’s results from her study on these issues in the Philippines.

Back to the MPA- that small user fee not only provides incentive for environmental protection, it can contribute to women’s empowerment through small business and better nutrition for families.

Sounds like a small price to pay for snorkeling in a sanctuary, doesn’t it?


Danika’s blog on her field work is here:


Great Barrier Reef Marine Park zone maps


Blog on the gender of money


I found them!

Back to my own research…I found my women! I found them! Aged from 23-73, there are 28 women in the management group for the marine sanctuary in Maite, Siquijor.  It’s a humble little reserve right in front of their houses, but it’s a no-fishing zone.  Only non-extractive activities like diving and snorkeling are allowed.

Friends already! Behind is the monthly budget allocations from what they earned from a user fee for diving/snorkeling.

I was lucky enough to have Meeshel (CCE staff) accompany me to Maite on Sunday, and we held a focus group with some of the women who help manage the sanctuary.

One of the questions I asked was why the women were involved in the sanctuary. These were two responses.

1) In my part, I get involved in this project because this is one of the problems of the government.  And being a citizen of the Philippines and the province and the barangay as well, it is one of my duties as a citizen to help, to help protect and preserve the marine animals.  And this is also one way of uplifting the quality of life to the fishermen.


2) We are the pioneers- the barangay officials who opened this sanctuary. Because we have to preserve our sanctuary we have to preserve our resources, the corals and the fish, because mostly we have so many fishing- illegal fishing in our area.  So we have to defend, like this, we have to make our guardhouse, make our schedule of duty- for the illegal fishing. So we have to protect our sanctuary for the future of our children.  Maybe someday we have so many fish.

Aren’t they beautifully said?

You know what I noticed as I listened? How unselfish the answers were to this question.  Whenever I read about MPAs before, it looked like the main reason was to increase the fish available for fishermen to catch, and to effectively increase their income.  So I figured the women’s responses would be somewhat in line with that idea; that they wanted an MPA mainly for an economic incentive.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

I wasn’t really planning on holding a focus group with the men in the management group, but now I hope I can ask them the same question.  Considering the men will almost all be fishers who sell their catch, I wonder if their answers are very different, don’t you?