agriculture and fisheries

Masbate illegal fishers turn wardens of the sea

Rhaydz B. Barcia

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Masbate illegal fishers turn wardens of the sea

ON DUTY. These sea wardens in Masbate, Bicol watch over 129 hectares of marine protected area (MPA), patrolling the sea six times a day.

Rhaydz Barcia

A six-year ban has done wonders for the 129-hectare Colorada Point Marine Protected Area in Aroroy town as corals are thriving and the fish are back with sea turtles, lobsters, giant clams and other creatures

MASBATE, Philippines – Joecil Regala was only 12 years old when he started work as a fisherman in Aroroy, Masbate province.

Joecil, now 56 years old, and his brothers Rogelio, 43, and Darwin, 40, practiced illegal dynamite fishing from 1980 to 2016.

All three are residents of Sitio Colorado Barangay Tigbao in Aroroy, the first-class municipality known for its gold mines.

“We did dynamite fishing from the 1980s to 2016 to support our families,” Rogelio said. 

“We detonated it within coral beds, which are habitats of fish,” he said in Bicolano, the language of the island province at the crossroads of Luzon and the Visayas. 

Every dynamite explosion damages on the average two square meters of corals. 

“Everybody did it, so almost all the corals were destroyed.”

Rogelio knows first-hand the danger of explosives. 

His disfigured left hand is the result of an accidental explosion while he was assembling piston, or improvised dynamite.

The brothers still take to sea. But they now take on the role of wardens and protectors of municipal waters.


In 2017, the Aroroy local government and Filminera Resources Corporation, started hiring local fishers to become sea wardens, more commonly called Bantay Dagat.

“As Bantay Dagat, we don’t allow any fishermen to enter and catch fish within the declared marine protected area,” Joecil said.

BROTHERS. Joecil and Rogelio Regala of Sitio Colorado, Barangay Tigbao in Aroroy, Masbate patrol the marine protected area (MPA) to ensure compliance of the no-fishing rule. (Rhaydz B. Barcia) 

Six years without fishing, he said, has done wonders.

“The fish are back. The corals are also reviving. The MPA is now home to different marine species,” Joecil shared.

Sea turtles, lobsters, giant clams and other sea creatures have been thriving in the Marine Protected Area (MPA) of Colorada Point in Barangay Tigbao here.

For Joecil, with four children, and Rogelio and Darwin, with two each, safeguarding the seas could hand down a legacy of bounty to their offspring.

There are six wardens of the sea from Tigbao village. They used to be seven but the oldest opted to retire.

They watch over 129 hectares of marine protected area (MPA).

Their brief is to bring back the fish and revive the corals.

They patrol the seas six times a day, for a daily wage of P365, said Darwin.

It is, by the standards of Masbate, a viable alternative livelihood.

Reef balls

Within the MPA are 3,993 reef balls planted with 52,000 coral fragments. The project was spearheaded by another mining concern,  the Philippine Gold Processing & Refining Corporation (PGPRC).

The MPA site of the reef balls is a corridor for boats headed to various villages and localities. The Bantay Dagat take turns so there are patrols 24/7.

Lovelle Cariaga, Filminera environmental manager and Masbate resident, said the corporation and its sister company, PGPRC, work with the local government to ensure the best technology for rehabilitation of reefs.

Reef balls are made of special, marine-friendly concrete, used worldwide to create habitats for fish and other marine species.

REGENERATION TOOL. Lovelle Cariaga, 41, Filminera environmental manager, shows some of the 400 reef balls ready for deployment in May 2023. Reef balls act like coral reefs, presenting as habitat to marine life. Rhaydz Barcia

These are made in different sizes to best match the natural reef type of Colorada Point in Tigbao village, said Cariaga.

The locals have worked since 2017 with the US-based non-profit ReefBall Foundation, helping in the production of the reef balls.

Cariaga said they will deploy over 400 reef balls in the MPA in May to regenerate more coral fragments. 

“Reef restoration is critical for the marine ecosystem’s long-term sustainability, and in helping mitigate the impact of climate change, aside from providing livelihood to local fishermen,” Cariaga said.

Troubled past

It sounds a bit ironic – gold mine operators helping underwrite a marine environmental program in Masbate.

PSA regional director Cynthia Perdiz told Rappler that the cutting of mangroves and dying coral reefs are major contributory factors for declining fishing industry in Bicol Region.

Toxic waste from land can kill coral reefs.

Perdiz cited the 2005 toxic spillage from Rapu-Rapu mine, still the worst mining disaster in the country after the passage of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.

Rapu-Rapu’s owner, Lafayette was the first mining company allowed by the Philippine government to operate following the law’s enactment. Back then, it was touted as  a model of responsible and sustainable mining. 

But Lafayette released cyanide that poisoned the earth and the sea. It caused massive fish kills that affected the livelihood of coastal communities in Albay and Sorsogon.

PROTECTION. Workers check young mangrove in a marine protected area at the Tigbao coastal village, in Aroroy town, Masbate province, Bicol. Rhaydz Barcia

In the past, Filminera faced several complaints over alleged environmental destruction affecting the municipalities of Aroroy and Baleno.

The Court of Appeals in 2017 dismissed a petition by environmental group Ang Aroroy Ay Alagaan, Incorporated that sought a writ of kalikasan and an environmental protection order against Filminera Resources Corporation’s gold mine in Aroroy.

The Supreme Court upheld the CA’s ruling the following year.

The late environment secretary Gina Lopez also did not include Filminera in her closure or suspension order that listed 28 mining sites across the country.

Filminera, the largest gold mine operator in the Philippines, operates on 13,000 hectares.

Another companty involved in marine enivironmental programs is Phil Gold, a major driver in getting the Colorada Point declared a marine protected area.  It has expanded the mangroves planting program to provide additional livelihood to the coastal community of Port Barrera. –

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