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Women leading community efforts to patrol the seas in Philippines

Protecting Hinatuan Bay is her passion. Located in the province of Surigao del Sur on the eastern side of Mindanao Island in southern Philippines, Hinatuan Bay is made up of small islands abundant with marine life. Gemma Gades, a fulltime mother is also an active leader of a local fisherfolk group protecting the bay.  With increasing pressures on coastal resources, the primary source of income- the threats to livelihoods are many.

Intrusion of outside fishers using compressors and fine mesh nets, the use of destructive poisons, the clearing of mangrove forests for fishpond construction, the siltation of seagrass beds from limestone quarrying and algal overgrowth from domestic wastes, are just some they face daily. To raise these concerns, a few years back Gemma and other island women took the lead to form the community group "Ladies in United Movement Onward to Development" (LUMOT). 

Capacity-building seminars followed to deepen their understanding of the local environment and to boost their ability to contribute to the management of coastal resources. LUMOT members also elected Gemma the president of the organization in 1999. Nagkahiusang Mangingisda sa Hinatuan (NAMAHIN) meaning the Alliance of Fisherfolk Organizations in Hinatuan, was formed soon later to address bay issues at the municipal level and to link different stakeholder groups. Gemma was elected president of NAMAHIN in 2000.

Her work along with that of her co-activists is paying off. Today, reefs in Hinatuan Bay are seeing many changes after years of severe abuse.  Big fish have come back, the coral reefs are recovering and dynamite fishing have stopped for nearly two years due mainly  to active enforcement by fisherfolk organizations, fish wardens and the maritime police.  Remarkably, Hinatuan Bay is one of the few sites in the Philippines that have active women fish wardens and are continuing efforts to empower women to protect the seas.  Eight fish sanctuaries exist currently within the bay and are actively patrolled by community members—a sure sign of community engagement. 

The photograph above shows Gemma Gades advocating for the bay and raising awareness as she talks to fishermen.


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