For Gina Barquilla, a tough day at the office could mean an ugly face-off with an illegal fisher or mangrove cutter. They’re an inevitable occupational hazard: Gina is the environment and natural resources officer for the municipal government of Del Carmen, Philippines, and a deputized fish warden with “Bantay Dagat,” the local fishery enforcement team. In the two years that Gina has served as fish warden, she and the team’s efforts to crack down on illegal operations have earned them death threats, harassment, and even gunfire on their homes. When Gina once confiscated a judge’s illegal mangrove timber, he punched her. A fisherman they confronted once rammed their boat, sending her team into the water before they were rescued by maritime police.
Despite these troubling encounters, Gina knows her work is too important to give up, for both marine life and local livelihoods in Del Carmen. Gina works to protect Del Carmen’s 100,000 plus acres of municipal waters, which are abundant in coral reefs, seagrass beds, and more than 12,000 acres of mangrove forest. Unsustainable fishing and illegal activities have been persistent problems affecting these ecosystems.
Whatever affects the fishery affects many of the families in Del Carmen. Fishing is a core source of income and food for its population, with about 1,900 fishing households living in a community of just under 20,000 people. In 2015, the Del Carmen municipal government sought to improve the community’s use and management of its coastal waters, to ensure that its people could depend on their resources well into the future. Mayor Alfredo Coro II chose Gina, one of his staffers, to lead a Rare Pride campaign utilizing community behavior change to inspire the adoption of sustainable solutions. Since then, Gina has worked tirelessly to rally the community to reconnect with the ocean and defend it.
The campaign and its goal of sustainable fishing rested in large part on community engagement and enforcement — inspiring members of the community to see, think, and act differently to protect the fishery. Gina’s efforts included social marketing tools like billboards, a campaign jingle and an ocean animal mascot. With these tools, the campaign embedded its conservation message — to appreciate and protect Del Carmen’s unique, native marine resources — throughout the community. Gina and her team also hosted workshops to increase communication on fishing and its issues between local people and government.
The workshops allowed fishers to air their concerns about fishery misuse and livelihood obstacles like a lack of job benefits. During these workshops and other community events, fishers also learned about a sustainable fisheries management solution called TURF+Reserves, in which areas of “TURF” (“territorial user rights for fishers”) work with no-take “reserves” (or sanctuaries in the Philippines) to promote both sustainable use and conservation. TURFs grant local fishers priority access, rather than leaving waters open to competition from fishers near and far. In turn, local fishers heed the rules of the reserves with which TURFs are paired. The concept is meant to motivate fishers to better protect their waters, so they can reap the eventual spillover benefits of reserves.
After becoming a fish warden, Gina worked hard to recruit more local people to join Bantay Dagat, which now has 25 members. She continues to recruit volunteers, and encourages fishers and other people in the community to report violations they see to the team. “In time, fishers realized that some of the things they were doing were destructive, and they should be protecting the fishing grounds because it is the source of their livelihood,” said Gina.
Gina’s work and that of local volunteers has resulted in more than 200 apprehensions of illegal operations in the past three years. Gina also noticed a significant shift in illegal fishing behavior. The waters of Del Carmen have become a different place to fish. Ideas of safety, accountability, and longevity have worked their way into the collective perspective toward marine resource use. Once rampant mangrove cutting has stopped nearly altogether, says Gina. And the community has expressed its support for the TURF+Reserves solution, designing and passing its own into law.
Early this year, Gina and fellow Pride campaign managers in other coastal communities throughout the Philippines celebrated the completion of their three-year campaigns with Rare. Next steps will involve working with the community to implement and give functionality to the TURF+Reserve solution they’ve legally adopted.
Even when Gina has reason to feel adrift, she remains hopeful about achieving sustainable fishing. The people of Del Carmen have shown her their capacity for change, and her work with Rare has given her the tools and lessons to keep it up. “The approach of Rare’s fisheries program is different,” she says. “We may not be able to stop all illegal activities, but at least we are able to minimize them.”
S.H. Irby formerly served as Rare’s writer in residence. She is currently a communications specialist for Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
Yasmin Arquiza is the senior manager of communications for Rare Philippines.