by Raiza Veridiano
I was 22 at that time, unemployed with not much savings left, and things were not working out the way I imagined it to be. Being passionate about gaming, I decided to take the Product Officer (Game Master) position for an online games publishing company.
I worked with the best people in the country’s gaming industry: a witty marketing director, popular game masters, veteran creative artists and savvy technicians. We had the best team, but I needed to think what I really wanted. The company, I was working with, had awful manangement. I wanted to leave before things got worse.
So I resigned, thinking of what I really wanted to pursue. Until one day, I came across a ‘Call for Volunteer’ post for a marine project in Bohol, under BALYENA.ORG.
The project, ‘Assessing the Status of the Mobulid Ray fishery in the Bohol Sea’ headed by Dr. Jo Marie Acebes, tackles the history and the evolution, and the characteristics of the fishery based on the concerned species, materials used, the organization, catch distribution, processing, monetary value, and the market of its by-products.
On the same day, I forwarded the link of the project to my parents and asked if I could go and volunteer. They were very supportive of my decision as they gave me a go signal. Few weeks later, I emailed my resume and got accepted.
Bohol Province, where the project was going to be facilitated, was where the mobulid ray fishery has been practiced the longest. The locals, who are accustomed to capturing mobulid rays, depend mostly on it for their livelihood.
The Mobulid Ray Fishery
Arriving in Bohol, I was welcomed by a group of young men who were my co-volunteers; most of them studying Biology.
At first, I was very nervous and intimidated as I haven’t studied any marine biology. I was clueless of what most of the project was all about, but the guys were all so kind. They guided me and taught me the basics.
On the night of my arrival, we went out with another group of researchers from Lamave (Large Marine Vertebrates Project Philippines), ate barbeque at the mercado, and joined the celebrations for Jagna’s Calamay Festival.
The project I worked with is about the Mobulid Ray fishery in the Bohol Sea. Everyday, we had to wake up before sunrise and go to the docks armed with our record sheets, tape measure, rulers, cameras and of course some basic Visayan words to properly ask the fishermen about their morning’s catch. I was able to see and identify different kinds of rays, however, none of them were alive. After the morning work, we would all go back to Paseo Del Mar, smelling fishy.
In Bohol, fishing manta rays is part of their tradition. In the ancient times, the fishermen used harpoons, but over time, they learned to use larger nets to increase their catch for an equally increasing demand for gill-rakers. Gill-rakers are the most valuable part of the rays as it is often traded with foreign nations and is being used in Chinese medicine. When I asked the locals about their fishing practices, most of them stated that these rays were a big part of their livelihood as they were able to send their sons and daughters to college.
The locals also believed that the rays were gifts from the oceans, and that they would never go extinct. Unfortunately, the Manta rays are currently classified under threatened species.
In 1998, a nationwide ban on catching manta rays was imposed, however, the other smaller mobulid rays/devil rays were still not protected. And even though a law exists, fishing of rays in Jagna, Bohol is not properly enforced, as it has been part of their cultural practice.
During our free time and rest days, the team and I would take the time to explore the beauty of Bohol. We entered muddy bat caves, harvested and drank the best-tasting fresh buko juice, took a dip in the water falls, jumped onto clear-blue cave pools, sunbathed on white-sand beaches, got 40-pesos worth of henna tattoos, ate the best halo-halo made with fresh fruits, snorkeled with turtles and sea snakes, and watched dolphins. We also watched sunsets and sunrises and stared at the moon and the stars. By working with these people, I also got to taste different cuisines-from the local kilawin to shakshuka and vegan mongo burgers.
The month of May was full of festivities for the Boholanons. There were beauty pageants, singing contests, fire dancing, and most people invited you over to their houses to eat and have fun. This was the first time I’ve experienced this kind of hospitality, and I am thankful for the opportunity. From someone who has grown up in Baguio, this particular festival was new to me.
What I learned
As much as I want people to stop hunting for our gentle sea giants, knowing that it is part of their tradition and livelihood, I can only do so much. These creatures have a vital role in maintaining the health and function of the marine ecosystems. I am encouraging people to volunteer, be part of this project, discover new things, understand the culture and help find solutions.
I hope that in the future, the government would have projects educating the people on how they could protect and conserve our marine environment and introducing locals to a more sustainable livelihood in order to avoid depleting the treasures of the ocean.
Because in the end, there was one thing that I truly wanted to see but was not able to -a living manta ray, flying under the sea.
Raiza grew up with Pocahontas, Esmeralda, and Mulan, giving her a heart like theirs. With a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing, she now works as a Research Analyst for a BPO. Although unsure of what the future holds, she enjoys every bit of it, mostly by playing video games. She’s probably going back to gaming industry, or for humanity and the environment, like her parents.
For volunteer opportunities, follow BALYENA.ORG at https://www.facebook.com/balyena.org.ph