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Dauin Mayor Alanano vows to pursue case vs shipping lines 'responsible' for damaged marine protected area

By Judy Flores-Partlow

DUMAGUETE CITY, June 28 – Mayor Rodrigo Alanano of Dauin, Negros Oriental has vowed to take legal action against those responsible for what now seems to be irreversible damage to the Mandarin Marine Protected Area in the village of Maayong Tubig.

“We will pursue this,” said Alanano during a recent interview with reporters, adding that this incident should not be taken for granted considering the extensive impact it has on the town’s economy, tourism industry, marginal fishermen’s livelihood, coastal and marine resources and the environment in general.

The Maayong Tubig marine reserve, a famous dive destination especially known for the presence of the rare mandarin fish, Synchiropus splendidus, was partly devastated last June 18 when the cargo vessel, M/V Lorcon Davao, allegedly plowed through some 100 square meters of coral formations, initial investigation by the Dauin local government unit (LGU) showed.

While Bantay Dagat (fish wardens), resort managers, residents and other witnesses’ accounts alleged the vessel had allegedly entered the protected marine reserve shortly after 9 p.m. last June 18, a Coast Guard incident report and a Marine Note of Protest by Capt. Gaudencio M. Morales, Jr., master of the M/V Lorcon Davao, said otherwise.

Morales, in his Marine Note of Protest, said that around 9:06 in the evening of June 17, the vessel was on “standby main engine arrival maneuver with(-in) four miles off the APO lighthouse”, apparently referring to nearby Apo Island.

Two minutes later, while approaching the port of Bacong (DUCOMI pier), the vessel encountered bad weather with heavy rains and zero visibility, such that he slowed down the vessel’s speed and stopped the main engine a couple more minutes afterwards, Morales further said in his marine protest.

He claimed the vessel drifted afloat towards Apo Island “with safe distance 0.7 miles off” the village of Maayong Tubig and waited out until the weather cleared before they started maneuvering to the Bacong pier with “minimal speed dead slow” ahead. They docked at 10 p.m. at the DUCOMI pier.

The ship master’s claims were refuted by witnesses, to include Bigs Eggert, an Australian female master diver and manager of the Atlantis Resort in Lipayo, Dauin.

She said she was hanging out with friends at the Atmosphere Resort in Maayong Tubig when they saw the ship coming straight towards the protected marine sanctuary.

They heard the crunching of the ship’s bottom on the corals while they watched in horror, flashlights and spotlights in their hands beamed towards the vessel, signaling it to turn around. They continued to watch as it tried to maneuver its way out of the marine reserve.

According to her, the vessel was allegedly running at high speed towards the DUCOMI pier, about 10 kilometers from the site where it had plowed through coral formations.

“I am willing to testify in court. In fact, I and some other divers checked out the reefs the following day and took photos and videos of the destruction,” Eggert told reporters.

The LGU has asked the provincial Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), with the help of the private sectors such as resort owners and scuba divers, to conduct a thorough underwater damage assessment of the Maayong Tubig fish sanctuary starting Monday.

Alanano said the cost of destruction to the coral reefs cannot be quantified in terms of financial remuneration.

“Damage to nature has no cost,” Alanano said.

The Mandarin MPA in Maayong Tubig, covering some 13 hectares, is one of nine protected marine reserves in mainland Dauin town which are also popular dive destinations, along with Apo Island.

The others are the Sea Turtle Reef in the town proper with 9.2 hectares, the Sting Ray and Yellow Snapper MPAs in Masaplod Sur, each measuring six hectares, the Frog Fish & Lion Fish MPAs in Lipayo, with 8.2092 and 2.21 hectares each, the Nemo Reef in Maayong Tubig, 4.221 hectares, the Barracuda MPA in Bulak, 7.424 hectares and the Ghost Pipe and Sea Horse MPA in Poblacion District II, with 2.854 hectares.

Anchored on the community-based coastal resource management scheme, these MPAs are being managed by fishermen’s associations, namely, the United Fishermen’s Association, the Masaplod Norte Fishermen’s Association, the Kapunungan sa Gagmayng Mananagat sa Masaplod Sur, the Lipayo Fishermen’s Associations (north and south), the Maayong Tubig Fishermen and Farmers Association, the Bulak Bangus Fry Catchers Association, the Punta Fishermen’s Association, and the Panabulon-Alo Municipal Fishermen’s Association.

While marine reserves are no-take zones, controlled fishing activities outside of these areas have been the main source of livelihood for the marginal fishermen. Live food fish trade is a lucrative business with fish species captured from coral reefs commanding high market rates, especially at restaurants.

A fisherman can average a yield of five to ten kilos of reef fish for every five hours of open fishing outside of the marine sanctuary, Mayor Alanano said.

The spill-over from the no-take zones has been reportedly increasing over the years after these fish sanctuaries were declared as protected areas to ease human pressure on fish biomass and marine organisms.

Alanano is worried that food fish and ornamental fish found in the Maayong Tubig Marine reserve would decline after their natural habitat has been destroyed.

Apart from preparing legal action against the Lorenzo Shipping Lines, owner of the M/V Lorcon Davao, the mayor is also challenging the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) to investigate the ship’s navigation and other equipment if these have complied with national standards for ocean-going vessels.

Mayor Alanano noted that even smaller sea craft such as motorboats and speedboats used for dive tours in Dauin and nearby areas go through a stringent process before they can acquire the necessary license to operate. (PNA) LAP/JFP

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