In the Philippines, community members come together to aid ailing fish

CI’s Global Marine program is pursuing ambitious actions to secure a sustainable future for our ocean. However, sometimes the easiest way to make a difference is by taking small actions on the ground – or, in this case, in the water. Below, CI-Philippines communications coordinator Corina Bernabe recounts a recent event that rallied local community members to save the life of one fish.

A rare sighting of the ocean sunfish (Mola mola) in Batangas, Philippines culminated in an unusual clean-up activity, as the parasite-ridden fish drifted near the coast and allowed a group of Bantay Dagat (Sea Watch) members to clean it off before it went on its way.

The ocean sunfish normally spends its time in deeper waters, and is therefore unfamiliar to the residents of Batangas. It was spotted in front of one of the resorts in Mabini, and a resort owner reported the sighting to the Bantay Dagat headquarters. A group of people from Bantay Dagat and the Philippine National Police-Maritime Group immediately responded.

The ocean sunfish, estimated to measure 1.5 meters (5 feet) in length and 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) in height, had many parasites around its eyes and mouth, which was thought to be the reason why it drifted weakly to shallow waters. It stayed put as a group of Bantay Dagat members patiently picked the parasites off. When most of the parasites have been cleaned off, they gently guided the sunfish towards deeper waters until it swam out on its own.

It is common for the ocean sunfish to be infested with skin parasites, which are mostly cleaned off by small fishes or even birds. The heaviest of the bony fishes, it can weigh more than 2 tons, with females producing up to 300 million eggs. This makes the ocean sunfish the most fecund or productive vertebrate species on earth. Its size and unusual appearance also make it a prize sighting among divers. It feeds mostly on jellyfish, and contains toxins similar to those of the puffer and porcupine fish.

The waters of Batangas are part of the Verde Island Passage, one of the priority marine biodiversity conservation corridors of the Sulu Sulawesi Seascape where CI works. Most of the municipalities in the Verde Passage have Bantay Dagat groups, composed of community members (mostly fisherfolk) who volunteer to assist local governments in enforcing fishery and marine conservation laws in their respective areas.

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