BORACAY – Locals blame overfishing for the dwindling fish catch here. A rapid resource assessment and survey conducted by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) confirmed this.
In this island, reef fish communities are made up of low-value, small sub-adult fishes. But they become expensive market commodities when sold fresh, and so they are being rapaciously targeted by local fishers.
Boracay is famed for its powdery white sand, but fishes are important tourist attractions here, too, especially in scuba diving sites in Punta Bunga and Bunugan.
The main purpose of the BFAR survey was to establish a baseline data on the status of marine resources, more specifically the coral reefs and other marine life in the surrounding areas, and to identify possible fishery reserve sites.
It identified anchovies, cods, siganids, mullets, snappers and groupers as among the commercially exploited species here.
The main ways of catching fish in the waters off the island are spear or darts and hook and line, but many are also using very fine nets.
On the other hand, the destruction of corals in certain parts of the beach may be due to dynamite fishing many years ago, the indiscriminate docking of ships that brought construction supplies to the island during the construction boom, destructive fishing practices and overfishing.
Corals provide shelter and breeding places for other ecologically important species in the reef. Thus, water sports like scuba diving, snorkeling and even reef gleaning and fishing in shallow waters must be undertaken with caution to avoid further disturbances in the ecosystem.
Based on the survey, the general condition of the reefs surrounding the island is poor.
“There is a need to protect and manage the remaining resources such as corals, fishes and other marine organisms observed in surrounding waters of the island and the adjacent islands and islets in Caticlan,” stressed Sandra Victoria Arcamo, chief of BFAR’s Fisheries Resource Management Division.
BFAR aquaculturists recommended that the coastal waters surrounding the island be declared a fishery reserve, including the islands and islets in Caticlan.
Corals have been used as building materials – coral blocks are found in many old churches and houses in many towns in Panay Island. Locally known as igang, coral blocks have also become landscaping materials in parks and homes. They are even sold along the highways from Caticlan to Iloilo City.
These are also used as embankments in fishponds. Agricultural lime is extracted from coral deposits by fining, pack in sacks and sold to sugarcane farmers to modify soil pH (acidity or basicity).
While collection activities offer additional income to the residents, the people have already recognized somehow the ecological value of these resources in the survival of the island and the tourism industry.
Bleached corals are washed out to the beach by strong currents and action of waves especially during typhoons. They are often collected as souvenir items. A local ordinance is enforced by the local government of Malay and the three barangays in the island are prohibiting collection.
Posters prohibiting collection and sale of protected and endangered corals are posted in the Department of Tourism and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources field offices and in some strategic places in the island.
The ceaseless beating of the waves brings about the pulverization of reefs, creating the fine white sands that Boracay is world-famous for.
Other resource management schemes (e.g. for coral reefs) which could improve the fisheries and the marine ecosystem in the area must also be considered.
Quarterly monitoring of coastal water quality should also be made part of the regular activities, being one of the critical components of the well-being of Boracay’s marine life.