The islanders of Hambongan, Philippines keep no secrets. The 643 inhabitants are virtually all related. The clichéd white sand beaches and azure waters that shift hues with drifting clouds belie a cruel, well-known reality. In recent decades, fish catches have plummeted and the fishers have responded with dynamite. Deep cracks in the elementary school’s walls evidence the desperate and dangerous ramifications of the blasts. The people of Hambongan have always fished these crystalline waters. They know no other way of life.
About a decade ago, a marine sanctuary was declared near the shores of Hambongan to protect reefs and replenish fish. Illegal fishing has continued relatively unchecked among the tight-knit community. Rare Conservation Fellow Renante “Tian” Cempron, a former youth leader and the tenth child of a fisherman, has spent the last two years promoting sustainable fishing in Hambongan. Rare recently spoke with Cempron about his campaign.
What makes you most proud of your hard work over the past two years?
For me, I am proud of the connection I have made with the community, of which I am a part. The campaign helped people realize that the time is now to act because resources are not infinite. The campaign really engaged people and helped them realize the ocean is something to cherish because the sea is their livelihood.
What is the most valuable thing you have learned from Rare?
I learned the most efficient and cost-effective way to send a message. You do not need to engage a lot of people or a lot of resources. I also learned how to move people from one stage of behavior to another. I do not know if I could have learned that without Rare.
What is the biggest success of your campaign?
The fish abundance increased and the fish biomass increased. One fisher I spoke to told me that before the campaign, he could barely catch a kilogram of fish a day. Now he can catch one fish that is over a kilogram. His catch is still small, but the size is bigger. He used to harvest 200 kilograms of seaweed and now it has almost doubled to 350 kilograms.
What is next for you?
After the campaign, I hope that my site will be a pilot site and expand to adjacent areas. I hope the nearly 2,000 marine sanctuaries in the Philippines will be managed effectively and contribute to more fish and maybe fish forever for us.