Trials and triumphs of a ‘Bantay Dagat’

February 19, 2019

By Josel-An E. Dua

Being one of the protectors of the environment is never an easy feat. The crusade is paved with enormous challenges and sometimes threats from people and groups intending to advance their self-interest.

For Vicente “Enteng” Mahinay, the cause of protecting the seas and its precious resources as a Bantay Dagat (sea patrol) for over two decades has proven to be as demanding and audacious, however, rewarding after all the toiling come into fruition.

Enteng is a resident of Barangay Nurcia in Lanuza, Surigao del Sur, and started his advocacy to protect the Marine Protected Area (MPA) in 1997 when the Lanuza Marine Park and Sanctuary was established.

“There was no guardhouse back then,” Enteng recalled. He said that only a trapal or waterproof sheeting would protect them from the cold wind and rains, and scorching sun. During that time, however, there were uproars from the barangay (village) that the marine protected area (MPA) was too big that the Bantay Dagat or sea patrols could only carry out their tasks for three months.

From the intended 155 hectares, the MPA in Lanuza Bay was reduced to 111 ha. While their patrolling operations were postponed at that time, Enteng pressed on with his cause to protect the seas by educating local fishers and their children on the importance of marine protected areas.

Enteng also recalls being offered P3,000 per night by illegal fishers, so that they could take advantage of the resources of the MPA he was tasked to guard. Turning down the encroachers was risky. Enteng, however, rejected the proposal without second thoughts. “I won’t exchange my dignity for a couple of thousands and sully my name,” he said.

By 2011, Enteng stepped into the Nursiha Enforcement Team and has since been serving as the treasurer. The Nursiha Enforcement Team is the MPA management body of the Lanuza Marine Park and Sanctuary, composed of representatives from Barangay Nurcia, Sibahay and Habag. It is one of the partner beneficiaries of the SMARTSeasPh Project that is currently implemented by Haribon Foundation and the Lanuza Bay Development Alliance (LBDA) in Lanuza Bay.

The SMARTSeas Project

Enteng recounted that before being part of the SMARTSeas project, he only focused on patrolling and apprehending violators in the MPA. But after a series of trainings, he also learned about the importance of proper solid waste management, especially that the Lanuza sanctuary is frequented by sea turtles including green sea turtles, hawksbills and leatherback turtles. Trash is collected every time they conduct sea-borne patrols.

Being part of the project, his appreciation on corals and reefs has become greater. “I only knew that corals are where fish hide and take shelter,” he said. Enteng explained that he was unaware that fish eggs are also deposited in corals wherein fish also feed. He then realized that caring for the corals and making sure they were not ruined could assure a stable fish catch.

At some point, however, Enteng and his team got discouraged by people who insisted that their work was futile as fish could no longer be found in the sanctuary. Through the open water scuba diving and coral reef monitoring trainings, they discovered a newfound drive for guarding the MPA and defending their efforts. Enteng also said that their training greatly improved their knowledge and skills in biophysical monitoring.

Enteng was one of the Bantay Dagat deputized after the coastal law enforcement training sponsored by the project. He proudly said that before turning violators over to the police, they educate them on the importance of marine conservation. During school breaks, Enteng also teaches children and the youth from fishing families.

For Enteng, it is vital to start young in instilling proper values and love for the environment to the community. “I am not doing this for my own benefit. My efforts are not for myself; I am doing it for the generations to come. So they will have the freedom to enjoy what the ocean can give them, their children and their children’s children,” Enteng in his local dialect.

Enteng’s information campaign also extends to non-fishermen by encouraging them to monitor MPA portions near their homes.

After over two decades of patrolling, Enteng realized that marine protected area management is more than just enforcement and apprehending violators. It is a full circle of efforts that include educating the young, habitat management, biophysical monitoring, and regular evaluation of activities.

Haribon Foundation, the country’s pioneer environmental organization, is implementing the SMARTSeasPh Project in Lanuza Bay, funded by the United Nations Development Program with the support of the Global Environment Facility.