Fishermen in the once tranquil Babuyan Islands in Cagayan province are literally having a blast.
Local fishermen, citing poor catch in recent months, have resorted to dynamite blasting to salvage metal from shipwrecks surrounding the islands, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-Philippines.
It is said to be the newest and most environmentally damaging source of livelihood in the islands, said the WWF, which conducts an annual on-site monitoring of the Babuyan Islands for its Humpback Whale Research and Development Project.
The blasting is scaring away the Pacific humpback whales that come to the Philippines to breed this time of the year, it said.
The dynamite blasts are also inevitably destroying the coral reefs in the Camiguin Island, where the blasts have been monitored.
The WWF records an average of 100 sightings in the Babuyan Islands annually but fears that this would be reduced due to the dynamite blasts.
"We will continue to monitor the whales to see if the blasting has a direct impact on the whales ... although definitely there must be permanent damage to the coral reefs in the area," WWF consultant Jomarie Acebes said in a phone interview.
Located about 50 km north of the Luzon mainland, the Babuyan Islands has the highest known cetacean species diversity in the Philippines, hosting 14 of the 25 known cetacean species in the world including the humpback whale, sperm whale and bottle-nosed dolphin.
The WWF team that arrived in Camiguin Island north of Cagayan province on Feb. 17 has recorded up to six blasts per hour almost everyday. On March 18, just days after the Calayan police arrived in Camiguin, four blasts were recorded again.
"The blasts are really loud. You can hear it even up to eight kilometers from the shore. That's very loud considering that the dynamites explode under water," Acebes said.
The locals themselves have admitted that those who go out for blasting use about a gallon of dynamite for every trip, she said. They dive to plant the dynamites in the shipwrecks and then recover the steel that comes loose due to the explosion.
The scrap metals are sold in the island for about P4 per kilo. The dealer from the island then sells the scrap in Aparri or Cagayan for about P10 per kilo, Acebes said.
There are at least five known shipwrecks surrounding Camiguin Island, all of which are in the breeding ground of humpback whales that travel to the Babuyan Islands before proceeding to Alaska and Russia to feed.
The shipwrecks, which are more than 20 years old, have become artificial reefs that serve as refuge and breeding ground for fish.
Acebes said the locals have been salvaging metal from the shipwrecks for about two years now, but they used to dive and use acetylene to recover the loose scraps.
The locals have only started to use dynamites these past few months because they wanted to get bigger pieces of metal, she said.
The Cagayan provincial government passed an ordinance in 2003 declaring the humpback whales as protected species within the territorial jurisdiction of the province.
The WWF has written Calayan Mayor Joseph Llopis to inform him of the blasting. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources have also been informed of the illegal activity.
The Calayan police have also visited Camiguin and apprehended the locals for the blasting but the WWF revealed that no police report has been filed in Calayan about the blasts.
Pressures such as illegal hunting and overfishing have threatened the global population of cetaceans. Humpbacks are listed as endangered under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the US Endangered Species Act.