Agutaya seaweed farmers brace for the effects of Mindoro oil spill

Photo courtesy of Victorio Cataylo

Local farmers like Domingo Abanes have depended on seaweed farming for decades to support their families in barangay Concepcion in Agutaya town. At 64, he still has to find time to do his job as barangay captain and collect seaweed in the waters of Agutaya.

The seaweed farmers and their means of livelihood are now challenged due to decreasing volumes of harvests and are currently under the threat of oil spillage from the submerged tanker MV Princess Empress in Naujan, Oriental Mindoro. He is concerned that the estimated millions worth of seaweed will be harmed, prompting the community to install oil spiller lines on Sunday.

Even though he hasn’t seen anything yet, Abanes and other community members, along with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), began laying 400-meter oil spiller lines made of used garments from Sunday to Monday.

“Kung hindi namin lalagyan ng harang, hindi rin masabi baka totoo, baka mas mamroblema kami. Nagtulong-tulong na, yong iba nagbibigay ng lumang damit para doon siya didikit at hindi na sa seaweed,” he said.

Locals are currently enjoying the heavy northeast monsoon breeze, which he describes as a perfect season for seaweeds. Yet, it may hasten the oil spill.

According to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration’s (PAGASA) gale warning alert #42, rough to very strong seas are forecast along Palawan’s eastern coast, including the Cuyo and Cagayancillo islands. It is also seen in Oriental Mindoro.

They aim to install another set of oil spiller lines on Tuesday, with a total length of 800 meters for Concepcion. The threat of oil spill reaching their seaweeds is not preventing the community from carrying on with its activities, such as planting and harvesting.

Buyers in Agutaya pay P22 per kilo for dried seaweeds. Abanes can yield five to six sacks of 80 kg apiece. His earnings can pay off his loans for pre-planting, and the rest goes to his family to buy rice.

The majority of households in the municipality rely largely on seaweeds in addition to fishing.

“Malaking bagay. Kahit mura ang seaweed pero kapag ikaw ay sinwerte ay malaki-laki ang harvest,” he said.

Concepcion is one of the barangays with reported traces of oil spillage in Agutaya. Other island towns like Cuyo also started to put their oil spiller lines in place to protect the Manamoc Marine Protected Area.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said there was no presence of an oil spill in the town of Agutaya, contrary to reports and posts by citizens circulating online.

PCG Marine Environment Protection Unit (MEPU) joined an aerial survey conducted by the Western Command and Tactical Operations Wing-West but found no traces of oil in the area.

Captain Dennis Labay, district commander of PCG District Palawan, however, stated that emergency plans have already been made in case the spillage reaches the island towns.

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