In Siquijor, islanders are, as in most of the Philippines, heavily dependent on the ocean for both income and food. But these days, fishermen here are catching less and less. Oceana, an ocean conservation nonprofit, reports that across the Philippines 75 percent of fishing grounds are overfished, and reef fish have declined by up to 90 percent.
As fish stocks have continued to decline as a result of both overfishing and climate change, research at nearby Silliman University shows that fishermen have only tried harder, resorting to ever more illegal and destructive methods: three-layered trammel nets, chlorine poison, dynamite.
The resulting ecosystem death spiral is straight out of “Fisheries 101,” said Aileen Maypa, a biologist who spent years working to restore reefs in Siquijor and neighboring islands. “If you don’t do anything,” she said, “everything is famine.”
Dr. Maypa said women’s involvement has repeatedly transformed outcomes in the region.
Men “are looking at the now,” she said. “Women are looking at the future.”
When women are involved, she said, arguments are less bloody and poaching is less common, and when new conservation projects are proposed, women almost always say yes — and are more willing to accept near-term compromises, and then work to expand projects.
“The approach of women is softer,” she said, adding: “That doesn’t mean it’s less strong.”
The Philippines is home to more than 1,200 marine protected areas, but most marine scientists believe few achieve meaningful conservation goals.
In Siquijor, the most recent local assessments, completed in 2019, show at least half the island’s 22 sanctuaries meet criteria for “excellent” management. Of those, two are run almost entirely by women.