CULION: A Fisher’s Experience

Off the northeastern coast of the main island of Palawan province and bounded to the north by the islands of Busuanga and Coron lies the island-municipality of Culion. Formerly associated with the stigma of its past as leprosarium and consequent isolation from the rest of the world (International Leprosy Association), the municipality has recently begun to attract tourists as an off-the-beaten-path alternative to its well-known neighbor Coron . As one of the case study sites of the Institute of Social Order, it is also distinct in the presence of mangroves, ecosystems known for their diversity and multifaceted benefits.

A municipality surrounded on all sides by glittering sea, it comes as no surprise that the majority of Culion Island’s population is engaged in fishing as their livelihood. In both Barangay Libis and Barangay Osmeña, with whose residents we were able to engage, fishing emerged as one of the more prevalent jobs, with both men and women engaging in the trade. In a survey for example, results show that 52% of residents in Barangay Libis and 41% of residents in Barangay Osmeña work in fisheries (Poblete et al. 2018). Even among those in other lines of work, fishing is often seen as a sideline, a source of income aside from their primary livelihood. Thus, we can see how tied the communities of Culion are to the sea that flanks them. Such is the importance of the sea and its resources to these settlements.

A Map of Palawan; Culion is traced in red.
Source: Google Maps

The Tides of Time

With that said, however, fishing is rarely ever the romanticized idyll it is often portrayed to be. Even the passing of time, it seems, has become one of the enemies faced by the fisherfolk of Culion, a continuing challenge they are forced to confront day after day.

Photo by the Institute of Social Order

Noon, marami pa kaming nahuhuling isda,” Pauline Austria, a 47-year old fisherwoman who has resided in Culion for 23 years recounted in an interview. “…mas maganda noon kaysa ngayon,” she compared. This sentiment is not unique to her. “Sa paglipas ng panahon ay lalong humihirap manghuli ng isda,” said Geronimo Torres, a thought echoed by all the interviewed residents. Among all the fishermen asked, this unfavorable comparison between the past and the present arose when asked about how the experience of fishing has changed, the passage of time seeming to have turned into an antagonist, to have caused a decrease in catch, and an increase in hardship as the years went by.

Albert Pecanilla, a 28-year old fisherman who was born in Culion, meanwhile, named a factor which has affected the viability of selling fish in the past year: “Sa ngayon, napakahirap sa tulad naming mangingisda, lalo na [ngayon] sa panahon ng pandemya. Hirap na ibenta ang isda dahil limitado na ang labas ng tao.” Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has materialized as another challenge in the fisherfolk’s duel with time.

Sa paglipas ng panahon ay lalong humihirap manghuli ng isda.

Geronimo Torres

Waste in the Sea, Waste on the Ground

Then again, the current pandemic has only been in existence in the past year and a half. The fishermen of Culion, on the other hand, have been braving the sea for decades. This begs the question: what else has caused fishing to become more difficult as the time passed?

As part of our campaign, the fisherfolk and community members were asked about what they thought with regards to problems in waste management and their effects on livelihood opportunities. It has already been made apparent that improper management of waste leads to environmental problems, such as those found in polluted mangroves. How do the fishermen see this, however? Is improper waste management, to them, as much a problem as we think?

Upon hearing the recollections of their experiences, it turns out that indeed, waste has played a role in the challenges that have faced the fisherfolk of Culion. When asked about whether they see garbage while out at sea, there was a consensus among them. “Madalas ako[ng] nakakakita ng basura kapag naglalaot ako,” responded Geronimo, who has lived in Culion for the past twelve years, an experience echoed by all the fishermen we spoke with. Mariano delved deeper, saying “marami po,” describing the garbage that pollutes the fishing area as more than a few floating debris, but as a substantial amount that needs to be collected and set aside.

And as something that they encounter every time they go out to make a living, most of the fisherfolk understand deeply the detrimental effects of solid waste pollution, especially on marine resources. These pollutants—which they trace, most frequently, back to coastal settlements without waste management facilities—cause, at the very least, inconvenience when they catch onto nets, and even worse, the decrease in quantity and quality of their catch. “Nawawala ang mga isda dahil sa mga basura,” said Geronimo when asked about how waste affects their catch. Indeed, litter can have severe effects on marine wildlife, its deposition destroying habitats and endangering the lives of animals in an area. This damage, quite importantly, also applies to Culion’s mangroves, ecosystems tied to the livelihood of those who reside on the island by virtue of their serving as nurseries for multiple seafood species (International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2017). By damaging these habitats, improper solid waste management condemns these fishermen to ever-decreasing quantities and quality of their catch.

Mangroves are known as nurseries for important seafood species, which also makes them important to the livelihood of many in Culion.
Photo by the Institute of Social Order.

The effects of improperly managed waste, however, are not limited to the waters and mangroves that surround the island. Agapito, for example, pointed to the effects of the odors given off by the waste and the negative effect scattered waste has on a community. Pauline and Geronimo, meanwhile, mention greater risk of flooding in times of disaster due to the waste blockages that plague waterways.

Thus, solid waste mismanagement can be seen as manifesting itself into a very real problem that haunts the residents of Culion and their surroundings, even down to their livelihood prospects.

Steps towards Change

Now that the solid waste problem has been uncovered, it is important as well to note that steps are being taken to mitigate or even solve them. The LGU, for example, has organized facilities for proper waste disposal and management, and sends out garbage trucks to collect the waste that the residents have accumulated. Meanwhile, non-governmental organizations have also been doing their part. The Institute of Social Order, for example, as part of their project for mangrove conservation, has helped raise awareness of the importance of proper segregation, according to the fisherfolk, as recounted by the fishermen.

Mangrove Conservation efforts by NGOs, such as the one pictured, may include waste management as a concern in the protection of mangrove areas.
Photo by the Institute of Social Order.

As has been highlighted in the previous section, however, more importantly, the awareness of the residents itself has solidified the desire to take action among the communities on the island. Several of the fishermen we spoke to told us of their own responses to the challenge of solid waste. For example, Geronimo shared that he recycles old plastic bottles by turning them into flower vases, a creative response to the challenge posed by solid waste. Further, Mr. Aaron Bustamante, a Project Coordinator from the ISO, spoke of barangays and people’s organizations that have begun their own initiatives for waste management, a must for the island municipality considering the few road connections among its barangays.

With all of this said, however, waste management is a project that requires continuous work. In line with this, the fisherfolk residents of Culion hold aspirations for how waste management, their environments, and their livelihoods can improve in the future. While there is an uncertainty over what the future may bring (“‘Di ko po masasabi, ang Panginoon lang [ang makasasabi],” said Antonio Mariano when asked about the future), there may also be a fear that the passing of time will bring even more waste, throw more challenges towards them and to the livelihood which they have had for decades. Nevertheless, they hold hope of a better future contingent on an improvement in the different factors which govern their surroundings. They hope, for example, for greater awareness of the importance of waste management among all members of the community, for more effective enforcement of waste management regulations for the seas and for mangroves, for greater cooperation among all stakeholders, and most of all, for positive change.

All in all, what we learned from the fisherfolk of Culion, and from their experiences throughout the years is the importance of taking care of the environment that provides humans with the resources they need for survival. We are all called, as they are, to look around us, whether we are in Culion or anywhere else, and see what we can change, and what we can do, to make the world a better place not just for ourselves but also for others.


International Leprosy Association. n.d. “Culion Leprosy Colony.” International Leprosy Association – History of Leprosy. Retrieved July 27, 2021 ( 

International Union for Conservation of Nature. 2017. “Mangroves: Nurseries for the World’s Seafood Supply.” IUCN. Retrieved July 27, 2021 ( 

Poblete, S.M.M., L.A. Makalintal, K.M.I. Castro, and L.L. Lim. (2018). Participatory Coastal Resources and Ecological Assessment (PCREA) for the Promoting Participatory Island Development Strategy for Culion, Palawan Project. Philippines: Local Government of Culion, USAID Philippine-American Fund, Institute of Social Order, and Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan.

Spread awareness on Twitter by tweeting #AlagaanAngBakawan and #PakingganAngCulion!

Campaign by Alconis, Karl Eli R.; Axibal, Joane Denise Alliah M.; Eleazar, Pamela Christine L.; Llames, Gel Christian P.; Lira, Leandro Emanuele P.; Maligalig, Paulo Miguel R.; Yuzon, Ma. Katrina Ysabel T.

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