Albay west cost eyed as Bicol's eco-cultural tourism center

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LIGAO CITY — The celebration of the World Oceans Day has given birth to a broad coalition of stakeholders that vowed to work for the conservation of the rich Albay west coast marine ecosystem.

Energetically led by City Mayor Patricia Gonzalez-Alsua, the union involves, among others, the city government, municipality of Pioduran, offi ce of Albay third congressional district Rep. Fernando Gonzalez, Philippine National Police (PNP) regional unit for Bicol, the Philippine Army (PA) local command, Greenpeace and barangay communities.

Also part of it are the regional offi ces of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) based in Pili, Camarines Sur and Legazpi City, respectively.

“We also expect the municipalities of Libon and Oas that, apart from this city and Pioduran town, also cover some barangays along the west coast to join us later in this united front that aims not only to put an end to illegal fishing and another abusive use of our marine resources but also to further revitalize the local coastal environment,” Alsua on Tuesday said.

The formation of the coalition, a brainchild of Gonzalez, was formalized during last Saturday’s gathering in Barangay Cabarian here which served as a pre-World Oceans Day celebration activity where heads and representatives of the agencies and local government units (LGUs) involved expressed their commitments to its cause.

World Oceans Day, an occasion designated by the United Nations General Assembly every 8th of June each year, is “a way to celebrate our personal connection to the sea, as well as to raise awareness about the crucial role the ocean plays in our lives and the important ways people can help protect it,” Greenpeace Southeast Asia Ocean Campaigner Vince Cinches said.

Greenpeace -- an independent global campaigning organization that, among other environmental activism, challenges wasteful and destructive fishing activities and creating a global network of marine reserves -- spearheaded the local celebration themed this year -- “Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet”.

“It is unfortunate, however, that as we celebrate today, human pressures, including over-exploitation, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, as well as unsustainable aquaculture practices, marine pollution, habitat destruction, climate change and ocean acidification are taking a significant toll on the world’s oceans and seas,” Cinches said.

Nonetheless, he said, the celebration is, among others, to remind everyone that the ocean remains the lungs of the Earth -- providing most of the oxygen that everyone breathes, and to inform the public on the impact of human actions on it.

“We also celebrate to mobilize and unite the entire population represented by all sectors involved in this new coalition on projects for the sustainable management of the ocean with its local marine ecology that is major source of food and medicines and a critical part of the biosphere,” he said.

And since Albay west coast is along Burias Pass, the primary concern of the coalition is this huge fishing ground covering the municipal waters that separate Masbate province’s Burias Island from the Bicol mainland.

Alsua said that on the part of the city -- whose municipal water is approximately 126 square kilometers in expanse with a coastline length of about 8.4 kilometers covering barangays Cabarian, Catburawan and Maonon – a marine ecology enhancement program reinforced with a “we-mean-business” anti-illegal fishing campaign is entrenched.

The program, started in 2006, has established fish and marine reserves with an aggregate total area of 135 hectares off the coastlines of the three barangays and an aquasilviculture project along with a 62-hectare mangrove forest that now boasts of nearly 500,000 healthy growing trees.

It has also put in place a coral reef rehabilitation and seagrass protection program that now provides for coral regeneration and protection to fish biodiversity, resulting in increased fish catch for local fishermen.

“Because of these projects, our fi shing ground has been rejuvenated following years of disturbing deterioration caused by both natural and man-made destruction,” Caburawan barangay chair Melquiades Bellen Jr. said.

Apart from that, the fishing ground is also being kept under tight watch by the Ligao City Anti-Illegal Fishing Task Force, a composite team of enforcers from the PNP, PA, BFAR, DENR and the local government.

The task force, according to Alsua, has its station along the shoreline of Barangay Cabarian that is manned 24/7 and ready to respond against any form of illegal activity in its covered area—the entire Burias Pass.

PNP-Bicol regional director Chief Supt. Victor Deona motored some 50-kilometers all the way from the regional police headquarters at Camp Gen. Simeon Ola in Legazpi City to Barangay Cabarian for the Saturday occasion to personally deliver his commitment to the unified actions.

He hailed the city government for spearheading an anti-illegal fi shing campaign even as he lamented facts that some local government heads in the region are either coddlers or themselves owners of fishing vessels illegally operating in local waters.

“This time, I assure you that there will no longer be untouchables in our campaign against illegal fishers in the region. That’s how serious we are in the PNP and we need more LGUs to follow the example of Ligao City for more concerted efforts,” Deona said.

DENR’s Protected Areas and Wildlife and Coastal Zone Management Service (PAWCZMS) regional technical director Al Orolfo said his offi ce is recommending to the national government the declaration of Burias Pass and its adjoining waters of Ticao Pass as a marine protected area to preserve its great marine diversity.

Both waters are home to whale sharks, manta rays, dugong and various species of sea turtles, exotic coral reefs and lately discovered to be a habitat of the globally rare megamouth shark (Mega-chasma pelagios), according to Orolfo.

Cinches agreed, saying Greenpeace supports such recommendation as a measure to save both water bodies from being overfished and give way to a to a more sustainable coastal resource management.

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