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Women nurture fish sanctuaries.

Byline: Shiena M. Barrameda

Expertly maneuvering her small boat through the waves of the Pacific Ocean toward her coastal home on Caringo Island in Mercedes, Camarines Norte province, Susan Aseron, 36, gave a last gaze at the fish and coral sanctuaries that she and other female villagers have been guarding against illegal fishing. Aseron, along with other wives and daughters of Caringo Island, keep watch over one of the five fish sanctuaries hugging the Mercedes Group of Islands and the shores of the mainland town on the eastern part of the province.

During the day, they guard the 17.17-hectare fish and coral sanctuary-home to a teeming marine life, mostly tropical and other aquarium fish species-since their group, Samahan ng mga Kababaihan sa Caringo (SKC), was formed separately from the bigger Inter-Island Management Council (IIMC) of Mercedes in 2011, she said.

`Amazons of the sea'

"Our husbands (all fishermen) replace us during the night as watchers," she said. "They are supportive of us." Although they do not have enough funds or facilities to use in their voluntary work, the women of Caringo are up to the challenge of chasing away or even capturing fishermen who illegally catch fish in the protected area, she said.

As SKC head, Aseron leads 26 women on the frontline in the campaign to protect the lush marine ecosystem of the Mercedes Group of Islands against threats of overfishing and destruction of corals from pollution.

Ronilita BolaAfAE'A,A+-os, 32, wife of a fisherman and a member of SKC, also devotes time and effort in watching over the vast fish sanctuary.

Like Aseron, BolaAfAE'A,A+-os leaves her tiny seaside nipa hut early in the morning, every day, to check the surrounding waters before logging in for duty. She has three children-aged 17, 11 and 9-who attend classes in the local elementary and high school during her shift.

Aseron herself has an 18-year-old son who is a scholar of the Department of Agriculture in Camarines Norte State College in the capital town of Daet, a full one-hour boat ride from the island to mainland Mercedes and another 8.7-kilometer land travel from Mercedes to Daet.

In 2012, Aseron won for herself and her group second place in the Outstanding Rural Women of the Philippines awards given by the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), for their work in keeping the sanctuary safe from illegal fishing since the establishment of the IIMC in 2007.

Aseron was also honored as the Outstanding Rural Woman of Camarines Norte in 2012 by the PCW. She received a fiberglass boat and other facilities that could be used in protecting the sanctuary.

While she and the women of Caringo are keeping their fish and coral sanctuary safe, IIMC members from the island-village of Apuao Grande and nine other coastal villages in Mercedes and representatives from the municipal government are doing their share in protecting other fish sanctuaries in the waters of the islands of Apuao Grande, Apuao PequeAfAE'A,A+-a, Canton, Quinapaguian and Malasugui.

Wild seaweeds

The women of Caringo are also busy culturing and growing wild white seaweed, village chief Fernando Navales said.

Most of the 288 households on Caringo benefit from the activity that gives them limitless supply of raw ingredients for sweet "gulaman" (jelly), which they consume for dessert, he said.

"The women here have not yet gotten around selling the gulaman but they are willing to teach people how to grow the seaweed and make the dish themselves," Navales said.

The SKC and its effort to propagate the seaweed and protect the fish and coral sanctuary received support from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in 2011.

Coleen Ibasco, municipal tourism officer, said fish and coral sanctuaries around the islands are sometimes visited by manatees, locally known as dugong, because of the abundance of sea grass.

The local government has decided to incorporate the efforts of the women of Caringo of protecting the environment and their very own dishes into the municipal tourism plan that will be launched this April, Ibasco said.

Culinary tours

The plan is to make gulaman production from wild seaweed part of the Mercedes Islands' experience via culinary tours. Visitors will be asked to harvest and cook the wild seaweeds themselves, Ibasco said.

According to her, the culinary tour was being developed among women of Apuao Grande Island through a series of culinary exchanges and cooking demonstrations.

Aseron, who continues to inspire Caringo women to untiringly protect their waters, clarified that she herself is not aware whether they had contributed to the economic growth of their neighborhood or the economy of Mercedes as a whole because they have no way of gauging their impact on their lives.

"We don't measure our success in terms of money. But we know that we are doing a good thing for the environment and we intend to continue," she said.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Apr 3, 2014
Words:812
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