Philippine Daily Inquirer

From skimboarde­rs to sea defenders

VERY DAY, the poor fishing village of Dahican in Mati City wakes up to the sound of approachin­g small outrigger boats and waves breaking the fine white sand beach gazing the Pacific.

- By Jeffrey M. Tupas Mati City, Davao Oriental

‘We love the sea, we love the sand. That is enough reason for us

to stand against those whowish to destroy the beauty of Dahican. For the past years, we have seen how Dahican changed to what it is right now …’

ELike a ritual, while the sky has yet to yellow, women brew native coffee and sip their cups slowly while waiting for their husbands with their haul of fresh fish. Children drag themselves to the shore to collect shells and join the wait.

In Dahican (pop. 10,000), sandwiched by the sea and the mountains of Davao Oriental, life starts long before the sun could even shine. As midday approaches, the long stretch of beach is almost immaculate­ly white from afar, and it is during this time that the burnt olive-skinned Amihan Boys breathe life to the place.

Nesting ground

The Amihan Boys are a bunch of mostly out-of-school local surfers or skimboarde­rs—the youngest is 10 years old—but their romance with the sea does not end with the waves and white sand. These days, they take on a new role as the top defenders of Dahican against de- structive human activities.

(“Amihan” is northeast monsoon in Filipino.)

They have reason for concern. Their village has again become the nesting ground of the endangered pawikan (sea turtles).

One early morning last month, a green sea turtle slowly crawled to the beach and went straight to a spot close to a young acacia tree, just a few meters from the makeshift watchtower of the Amihan boys’ training camp.

They had earlier rescued a number of sea turtles and saw others laying eggs in different areas. The Amihan boys could only cordon the nesting area with rope.

“We love the sea, we love the sand. That is enough reason for us to stand against those who wish to destroy the beauty of Dahican. For the past years, we have seen how Dahican changed to what it is right now. We have not seen sea turtles before but turtles are our frequent visitors now—we must have done something good,” said Pedro Plaza, 22, one of the group’s founding members.

Surfing and skimboardi­ng is not only what binds the group together now, Plaza said.

“It is also this desire to protect Dahican. We are now very much aware that if we keep on protecting Dahican, we will also continue to get the best reward of having to enjoy the waves and fresh fish and all the blessings of the sea,” he said.

One Sunday morning, Plaza and his older brother, Jun, rushed to a site where young green sea turtles were newly hatched. They were tipped by children playing by the beach, who discovered the nesting ground.

“This only proves that the entire Dahican is a breeding ground of the endangered pawikan. Every now and then, we get to discover nestling sites and we immediatel­y cordon these areas and watch over them,” the older Plaza said.

Persuasive power

One of the challenges they faced, he said, was how to make others aware of the importance of being responsibl­e villagers who “would also show care to the importance of having an environmen­t that is safe for both humans and animals.”

“The Amihan Boys are locals. They live in those shanties. The challenge was how could they possibly tell their families to stop the practice of illegal fishing or even practice solid wastemanag­ement?” said Jun, who is also the group’s guardian.

When they chose to talk less and show more, the boys became effective in persuading their parents and neighbors.

“One must show what it is to become an advocate. You have to practice it,” Jun said.

“They really showed to their families what must be done. Their knowledge about environmen­tal protection, the importance of having a clean environmen­t to the survival of men and species like sea turtles, are acquired through practice—no formal training or education… everything they learned from our day-to-day activities,” he said.

Membership requiremen­t

Care for the environmen­t has apparently become one of the criterion for a surfer to become a member of the Amihan Boys.

“They must also avoid and stop drinking alcoholic drinks, smoking cigarettes, and taking illegal drugs. Even videoke is prohibited,” Jun said.

“If they are found to be violating these rules, they can choose to either leave the group or suffer punishment of long hours of cleaning the shoreline and doing chores in the camp,” he said.

Richard Villacorte, Mati city administra­tor, said the people of Dahican used to poach and slaughter the sea turtles. They stopped only when there were no longer turtles in the village.

“Even newly hatched sea turtles were not spared. Children made pets out of them only that they die quickly. Until there were no longer sea turtles in Dahican,” Villacorte said.

“This is a village where six of 10 fishers used to practice illegal fishing. Now, as a result of what these boys are doing, illegal fishing has stopped. And they, too, are watching the sea for fishermen from other places who conduct illegal practice,” he said.

Good signs

For the fishermen of Dahican, the presence of sea turtles indicates good life for them.

“It means that the sea is productive. These sea turtles are signs that there are more fish to catch and it is good for us,” said one of them.

The city government plans to formally declare Dahican a protected area.

 ?? JEFFREY M. TUPAS ?? BOYS IN Amihan rest from surfing, watching the waves that they would soon ride again.
JEFFREY M. TUPAS BOYS IN Amihan rest from surfing, watching the waves that they would soon ride again.

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