A few weeks ago, I enjoyed watching a fishing competition put on by a local government on Siquijor during their Fiesta. There were 16 entries- some were team entries and some were single fishers- and they brought in their fish pots of various sizes. The fish pot is pretty cool, they leave it out in the water for a week, and when fish swim in, they can’t get back out, but no bait is used, and it is considered a non-destructive fishing method. Then the catch was weighed, and prizes were awarded at the end of the day. I really loved seeing how proud the men were of the baskets of fish they brought in; it is a very big deal to be acknowledged as a good fishermen!
What I’ve been experiencing this past week, was definitely not just a simple storm. This bad weather has consisted of a few factors; we have the ‘habagat’- the southwest monsoon, plus multiple typhoons coming from the Pacific. I don’t really know the details because I haven’t been able to watch the news much, but things have finally settled down and I am reflecting on how this storm has affected life here in the Philippines.
My whole life, I’ve watched natural disasters on t.v., but rarely been in them enough to disrupt my daily routine. On the Pacific Coast of the U.S., I have only experienced a few earthquakes in my life, and even then, I can’t remember anything in my house ever breaking. When I lived on the Caribbean side of Mexico, I went through evacuation of our research base due to a coming hurricane- that never came our way. Now, living at just a few inches above sea level on Siquijor Island, I feel a little different about storms.
For one thing, we have barely had 24 hours of electricity since 7 days ago. That doesn’t really bother me- I travel with a headlamp and extra batteries and tend to just sleep during the dark hours. At least we have running water, so we can bathe, and we had enough purified water to last, even if we couldn’t get more. But if you own an electric stove and need to feed your family, or you don’t own a flashlight but need to do homework, the ‘brown-out’ is going to force you to tweak your daily life.
Maite is on the southwest side of Siquijor, and this side of the island has been getting the worst of the storms. The waves that are usually quite gentle were big enough to surf. All boats were pulled ashore on every available property. As I learn about who owns what waterfront property here, it is evident that as more foreigners build on their currently vacant lots, the community is losing out. They lose a path to the beach and they lose a spot to pull up their boat. As far as I understand it, the public area is only 20 meters from high tide. People can build their houses right up to that 20 meter mark. Currently, that area is a pile of debris, and has been underwater with really high tides. So there’s not really a public beach at all.
Sometimes, people build concrete seawalls to protect their houses. It is illegal here, but that doesn’t matter if there is corruption in the government permitting office. Thanks to my courses at U.W., I know about the negative aspects of seawalls. It changes the dynamics of sand movement, which in turn can make other areas more susceptible to erosion. Like, your neighbor. Their house might be totally ruined simply because yours is totally ‘protected’. Also, complex habitat is considered better for marine life in some circumstances, and it makes sense logically; the more crevices animals can hide in at low tide the better, right? Straight lines and big walls do not good habitat make!
And now here are just a few comments on public health implications of this storm:
1. Coconut shells are excellent at holding stagnant water. Massive amounts of coconut shells on the beaches brought up by the storm= higher risk for dengue.
2. Dried goods that cannot be made edible without cooking= more pressure on forest resources for firewood and more cooking over fires. And cooking over fires is linked to asthma and increased air pollution.
And here are a few things I’ve been experiencing, remembering that seafood is the primary source of protein here:
1. Inability to go fishing, no refrigeration, little access to ice = no fresh fish.
2. Very few boats to/from the island and lack of a supermarket and canned goods on an island of more than 80,000 people= few food choices and increased pressure on the produce available locally.
3. Less food available= increase in people gleaning and collecting shells and urchins to eat during low tide.
4. Ruined marker buoy lines for the sanctuary= inability to determine exactly when someone has entered the sanctuary and inability to determine whether they are violating the sanctuary’s ‘no-take’ policy.
My curiosity about these things doesn’t seem to cease- is stormy weather linked with an increase in violations of protected areas? This is all getting really complicated, but I guess that’s what it is. I don’t think I’ll ever look at a storm the same way again.
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 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.
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).
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
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.
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?