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‘Fish Whisperer’, marine conservation in Cordova’s tourism rebirth
By: Eleanor Valeros | Published Wednesday, September 2, 2020
Cordova town’s tourism revival highlighted the sea wardens who have devoted their time and resources for the conservation of its marine sanctuaries. (Tonee Despojo)

The Gilutongan Marine Sanctuary in Cordova town teems with fish varieties - emperorfish (katambak), wrass (mulmol), rabbitfish (danggit), surgeonfish (labahita), and fusilier (bilason), among others. 

Credit roll highlights a thousand and one people and organizations who have devoted their time, strength and resources to make the marine sanctuary what it is today. 

One of them is Timoteo C. Menguito who stayed true to his commitment to help protect and conserve the area through three decades of stewardship anchored on the spirit of volunteerism.

He said that with the Covid-19 pandemic, protection of the marine sanctuary becomes even more challenging.

Menguito, known for his moniker “Sir Tuti,” is tagged as a “fish whisperer.” He is now 71 years old and continues to supervise the Gilutongan Marine Sanctuary. He graced the relaunch of Cordova tourism last August 30 in Nalusuan Island where another marine sanctuary takes pride of its success.

The 15-hectare marine sanctuary located in Barangay Gilutongan of Cordova is at the west side of Gilutongan Island and was established by a municipal ordinance in 1991.

Sir Tuti shared that some residents became habitual offenders, insisting that the act to get into the marine sanctuary is driven by “panginabuhi” or livelihood.

“Mao gyud na’y hagit nato kay tungod sa Covid mas daghan ang mangisda bisag bawal tungod kay gawas sa panud-an, panginabuhian man gyud ning fishing sa lungsod sa Cordova,” he pointed out during the reopening of Cordova tourism in Nalusuan, another island of Cordova which has established itself as an exciting tourist destination.

Sir Tuti served as a volunteer in 1991 with 19 fellow sanctuary wardens. However, he is the only one to have survived the challenges.

“Ako na lang nabilin sa original nga team of volunteer workers kay pag 1995 namiya na man sila, nangita og laing trabaho, kay sa volunteer work gud gutom man, wala may income,” he said.

But when the Gilutongan Marine Sanctuary generated income from entrance fees for swim-with-the-fish activities, snorkeling and diving, to name a few, Sir Tuti could only thank heavens he stayed on, inspired, led, witnessed, and spoke of more marine sanctuaries protected and conserved such as in Nalusuan.

“Mokita na man ang marine sanctuary. Wala na magkinahanglan og ayudahan. Ang pagsustinir na lang gyud sa pagprotektar,” he added.

Sir Tuti figured in the April 2001 issue of “Readers Digest Asia” when a travel journalist featured his story in the magazine. The said journalist gathered the information on Cordova’s fish whisperer from an issue of “Tambuli Magazine” which first published Sir Tuti’s story.

He said that aside from the token money worth 300 dollars and a certificate, it is the prestige of “being seen and heard” that made the experience overwhelming.

He explained that he used sound conditioning to call the fish to gather. He would tap a steel bar on the rocks as a so-called fish call. After which he would feed sea urchin to a growing population of fish and talk to them like talking to a friend.

Now, Sir Tuti witnessed the rebirth of Cordova tourism and could only hope that ecotourism bring more people to get a hold of pure joys from the oceans while local government units strike a balance between the need to revive livelihoods and conserve marine creatures that make Cordova more attractive to visitors. (Eleanor Valeros)