LaPas: Guardians of Our Blue Planet

The following blog post is the second in a month-long series about our fishing partners in El Nido. You can read the previous blog post here.  

Travel along the Quinawangan River in El Nido, and you’re bound to meet the Lamoro-Pasadeña People’s Organization (LaPas). Although their fishermen encounter obstacles including decreasing fish stocks, COVID-related impacts, river pollution, and illegal fishing, as an association, they are raising their unified voice to advocate for their livelihoods and the reestablishment of a Marine Protected Area to ensure the protection of El Nido. 

Here’s what you need to know about LaPas:

For the fishermen of LaPas, earning a decent livelihood from fishing has become more challenging. Year after year, they have noticed a decline in the volume of fish, with 2017 being their last good year. It’s gotten to the point where a majority of the fishermen (around 70%) only catch enough fish for their families. With local tourism at a standstill due to the pandemic, the few fishermen that have a surplus available for sale have been forced to lower the price of fish.

To address dwindling fish stocks, LaPas worked with the El Nido Foundation and the Coastal Resource Management Office to secure the protection of the reef near the mouth of the Quinawangan River, which serves as a crucial fish habitat. In 2008, LaPas was able to get legal recognition for this section of water, designated as a Marine Protected Area (MPA). 

Check out this graphic to learn more about this Marine Protected Area. 

Despite having key legal protections, the reef is impacted by several destructive practices both in and out of the water. Upstream, quarrying and logging activities degraded the water quality exiting the river. Downstream, sand is harvested from the river mouth, adding to sedimentation when it rains, which ends up choking nearby coral. Adding to the degradation of the river, sewage is often discarded throughout the water as families residing on the river banks lack an adequate waste disposal system. When LaPas stations guards to protect the river mouth, the quarrying and pollution subside, but as soon the guards halt consistent patrolling of the area, these activities quickly resurface. 

Illegal fishermen, who use the dangerous and destructive method of fishing known as compressor fishing, pose the largest threat to the Marine Protected Area. As these fishermen are often heavily armed, the legal fishermen’s only option is to alert patrolling guards, but by the time the guards arrive on the scene, the illegal fishermen are typically long gone. To make matters worse, these illicit fishers are backed by powerful individuals who profit off of this environmental devastation. 

Despite the challenges, members of LaPas carry on. Having an MPA may mean they have one less area to fish in but they know that the benefits they will reap in the future are worth it.

Despite the establishment of MPAs to increase fish stocks, experts worry about the future of fishing and fisheries as a whole due to the continuous large-scale unsustainable fishing practices seen across the globe. Even so, the members of the LaPas remain hopeful as they know the value of grassroots efforts in conservation. The recent Protected Area Management Plan also proposes to expand their MPA to 268ha in hopes of better securing their future. In the meantime, Ten Knots is working closely with LaPas to provide members with upskilling sessions such as basket-weaving, teaching, and entrepreneurship, with the goal of diversifying skills and livelihood opportunities for members. 

To aid the group in protecting their MPA, Ten Knots is fundraising 100,000 pesos in order to purchase demarcation buoys, rebuild the ranger station, and fund patrolling activities. In the words of Samuel Cobradilla, president of LaPas, with the fishing organization empowered, the illegal fishermen will be reminded that there is an association that exists to protect the MPA. Then, the guardians of the ocean can once again ensure the future of our blue planet.

Izzy George is a rising junior at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. majoring in Science, Technology, and International Affairs. Originally from North Carolina, USA, she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and backpacking in her free time. In the future, she hopes to unlock the synergies between sustainable resource management and economic development to address challenges surrounding food security, gender equity, and climate change.

Carsten Schoer is an International Business and Finance major at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. On campus, he is part of Zeeba Investment Fund and the Compass Fellowship among other organizations. With a passion for social impact, DEI, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability, Carsten strives to improve any environment he finds himself in.

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