A wake-up call against blast fishing
Professional diving instructor Al Bernard Coyoca was found floating in the waters off the coast of Daanbantayan, north Cebu with bloodshot eyes, facial scratches, and broken limbs – just like a dynamited fish.
The police blotter said he may have drowned. But an autopsy report later showed he sustained “traumatic injuries to the head and trunk compatible with blast incidence.”
Coyoca’s death on Sept. 30 has angered the divers community and given a new face to the problem of dynamite or blast fishing, and its impact on scuba divers and the tourism industry.
Karen Chan, executive director of the Philippine Commission of Sports Scuba Diving (PCSSD), said Coyoca’s death is a wake-up call for local government units to strengthen enforcement against illegal fishing.
“It takes strict enforcement and political will to end illegal fishing. These are their constituents, they know them. The mere presence of these illegal fishers reflect the kind of governance they have,” she said.
Daanbantayan is frequented by divers from all over the world as it is home to Thresher Sharks, which are found year round off Monad Shoal in Malapascua island. Dive tourism accounts for about 80 percent of the municipal economy.
“It’s a little bit sad because just recently, Daanbantayan was declared the first shark and ray sanctuary in the Philippines and the incident is conflicting,” Chan said.
“Here you are trying to protect this species, the marine ecosystem, and illegal fishing is still happening in the area,” she added. Monad Shoal and Gato Island was declared the first shark and ray sanctuary in the country last July.
Daanbantayan Mayor Augusto Corro said he has asked the police to carefully investigate the incident.
He also asked the maritime group, trained Bantay Dagat personnel and divers to conduct an underwater investigation and determine traces of blasting that may have caused Coyoca’s death.
Blast fishing and other illegal fishing marine activities have not been wiped out in his town.
“I have to admit that it is still there. I just hope that this is just an isolated case and that this will not affect the dive industry,” Corro added.
Tourism Assistant Secretary Art Boncato and Regional Director Rowena Montecillo have been informed about the incident.
HOW HE DIED
Coyoca, 33, was still in full diving gear with an attached oxygen tank – although his mask had come off – when a group of students found his body floating in the waters off a coastal school in barangay Paypay in Daanbantayan town.
Mia Loren wrote about how her brother died in a post on her Facebook account.
“My brother’s case made me aware that illegal fishing is still happening. I didn’t know this is still rampant until this happened. I don’t want this to happen to other divers. This cause is not just a cause for my brother but a drive to stop illegal fishing. What if this will happen to another diver?,” Mia said.
Mia said her brother went off on his own at around 5:30 a.m. on Sept. 30 to explore possible diving sites for a planned diving business in Daanbantayan. He failed to return for breakfast.
Mia said her father thought Al Bernard “was just unwinding somewhere, relaxing after a good dive.” There was no reason to worry because the skies were clear and Al Bernard, a member of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, was an expert who had been diving for almost 20 years.
At 1 p.m. students in Paypay saw a body floating in the water.
Mia said witnesses recall hearing a big blast near Paypay in the early morning. She said a fisherman told their family that a group of illegal fishers on board two motorboats threw dynamite at the site where Al Bernard was diving.
In her social media accounts,she used the hashtags #notodynamitefishing, #ripbangyaw and #justiceforbangyaw.
Coyoca left seven children. He had been a dive instructor since he was in college. He was based in Lapu-Lapu City and was a freelance dive instructor when he died.
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