Illana Bay located in Zamboanga del Sur is one of the single biggest marine resources in Southern Philippines. It cuts through one province, one city, seven municipalities and 56 barangays. Its coastal area covers 501,000 hectares, including an estimated 4,000-hectare mangrove forest. Illana Bay also supplies fishes to locations as far as Cebu and Metro Manila.
However, coinciding factors have caused the degradation of Illana Bay’s marine ecosystem. In the 1980s, there was mass destruction of mangrove forests and sea grass as residents considered them a nuisance. Fishponds were created in place of these and mangroves were cut down and sold as firewood. At the same time, dynamite, cyanide, trawl and other forms of illegal fishing destroyed coral reefs. Upland and lowland degradation also contributed to the silt that eventually covered the coastline and devastated the natural reef cover in the bay. Additionally, local government’s focus on upland development did nothing to help the ailing bay. At this point, the bay’s marine products were so depleted that fisherfolk had to travel outside the bay for their catch. By 1998, it was becoming clear that a concerted effort was needed to save the bay.
However, one of the biggest challenges in the South was the presence of several political and warring factions like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro Nationalist Liberation Front. Yet there was a more pressing, common enemy — poverty, which was rapidly growing as people’s single source of income was depleted.
The local government thus created the IBRA IX Council. Agreements were made, providing clear mechanics and details of cooperation under the program, including the pooling of funds, personnel and other logistic requirements. With technical assistance from professionals, the local government developed a coastal resource management plan and trained people to implement them. The local government also passed 11 ordinances to institutionalize its policies and make the program sustainable.
Only six months since the program’s launching, fish catch grew from three to five kilos a day per fisherman working for four hours. In three years, the volume of fish caught in the bay dramatically rose by 65%. Operation costs were also reduced by 30% as fishermen no longer had to go far to catch fish, resulting in greater productivity and income. Alternative coastal-based livelihood projects were also created, which tapped into the entrepreneurial skills of the fisherfolk. These economic gains influenced some rebels, pirates, and illegal fishers to lead better lives. In fact, most of them even volunteered to local Bantay Dagat organizations to further protect the marine resources.
The alliance not only transcended physical borders; it even penetrated political boundaries. Local residents have a newfound hope that the Illana Bay would be fully regenerated after five years.