Strengthening alliances for our seas

By: Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos June 01,2015 - 01:39 PM

Ferry passengers from Cebu to Negros Oriental traverse  the narrow but deep body of water dividing Cebu from the Negros provinces. Just like the tourists enjoying the famous dive spots in Moalboal and Bantayan, the whale and dolphin watching tours in Bais and Cebu, the sandbar in Manjuyod and  Bindoy’s Mantalip Reef and mangrove forests covered under the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape (TSPS), they are not conscious that they are within the largest marine protected area in the Philippines.

For the thousands of fisherfolk and their families and those living  in the coastal barangays of 42 LGUs in Tañon Strait, the strait was and remains their primary source of livelihood, their lifeline and an indispensable part of their heritage, as it truly is to ours. Their fish catch has dwindled as TSPS faces overfishing and climate crisis, just like most principal traditional fishing grounds of the country.

Human-caused challenges in the form of illegal fishing, the use of destructive gears, destructive coastal development, pollution and weak implementation of our laws persist.

It has been 17 years year since a legal armor as a protected seascape was vested by President Fidel V. Ramos upon Tañon Strait. Thanks to the convening in February this year of the first general assembly of the management body, the Tañon Strait Protected Area Management Board, the road map to sustainable management was agreed upon, subject to enhancement and approval by the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Finally, there was a convergence of key decision-makers wanting to protect TSPS. DENR- 7 Director Isabelo Montejo, then Regional Technical Director Al Orolfo, the former Park Superintendent Viernov Grefalde with BFAR-7 Director Andres Bojos partnered with  Cebu province and non-government organizations counterparts to make it happen.

Under the stewardship of Director Montejo and the new Park Superintendent Concordio Remoroza, this year’s anniversary celebration was anchored on the theme “Atong Dagat, Atong Kinabuhi, Atong Ampingan.”  It was rendered more meaningful with an inauguration of the Tañon Strait Protected Area Office in Badian, Cebu, with prayers led by Fr. Tito Soquino, an indefatigable ecological evangelization leader and Sea Knights co-founder.  The office is nestled in a mangrove-fringed island amid singing feathered friends, a true symbol of the goal for humans and nature to be in harmony with one another.

Director Montejo, likewise, made another precedent with the first State of TSPS Address (SOTA), a legacy that future successors are now expected to imbibe. He spoke of the significance of Tañon Strait, traced its history, the challenges, the priority programs in the next five years and the strengthened collaboration with the stakeholders, the local government units, PNP Maritime, PNP and BFAR and other enforcement agencies.

To help in deepening  public awareness, appreciation for and action to conserve Tañon Strait, Oceana displayed in the barangay stadium beautiful images of the strait, taken by the country’s topnotch photographers, including from Cebu. The mesmerizing shots can be seen in the Oceana Philippines Facebook and websites. Oceana likewise launched the Ocean Heroes Award for individuals  leading the crusade to protect TSPS, to be given in May 27, 2016.

Save Tañon Strait Citizens Movement (STSCM) and Knight-Stewards of the Sea (Sea Knights) were given recognition by DENR and Oceana for their selfless acts and engagement in protecting Tañon Strait and our marine habitats. STSCM led the fight to stop the offshore drilling for oil in the area years back. Sea Knights are our modern-day stewards of the sea.

Local chief executives from Negros and Cebu, BFAR, Coast Guard, PNP and NGOs from Rare, Oceana, STSCM, Phil. Earth Justice, Sea Knights, Tambuyog, ELAC and the POs and Cooperative from Zaragosa and Badian left no stone unturned to make the 17th Anniversary a very special one. On that extraordinary day, stakeholders from the government and civil society linked arms to declare their solidarity in protecting Tañon Strait.

Biodiversity Management Director Mundita Lim, although unable to come, sent a special message for all. While appreciating the encouraging strides taking place to sustainably manage Tañon Strait, she reminds us that:

“There is still much to be done. Beyond the management plans, all the summits and meetings, and on-ground interventions, what we truly need are concerted and dedicated actions in looking at ways on how we can efficiently and effectively utilize the services that our Tañon Strait provides. We must scale up our efforts in building awareness and concern for the conservation of our Tañon Strait, because as the theme of our 17th year anniversary of TSPS says, “Atong Dagat, Atong Kinabuhi, Atong Ampingan”, our Tañon Strait is our life, so let’s protect it.”

Can we all be counted to protect and defend our priceless and unique natural heritage?

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TAGS: Bantayan, BFAR, Cebu, DENR, dolphin, Moalboal, Negros, Tañon Strait, Tañon Strait Protected Seascape
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