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Filipino Fishermen Turn to Fiberglass Boats

  • George Putic

Under the watchful eye of the instructor from the World Wildlife Fund, Filipino fishermen are building new boats, not with traditional plywood but with glass-reinforced plastic, commonly known as fiberglass.

The huge storm that hit Leyte Island on November 8, 2013, left more than 7,300 people dead and missing. Four million others were made homeless, and many also lost their sources of income, such as wooden fishing boats, or bancas.

Typhoon Haiyan also destroyed the sources of the material to make new boats, so it looked as if rebuilding the bancas would take a lot of time and effort.

The World Wildlife Fund wanted to help the Filipino fishermen return to normal life as soon as possible. The organization's Bancas for the Philippines project is teaching them how to build boats more quickly, said Patrick Vincent Co, project manager.

“We feel that this is simply the next step forward, both out of necessity and out of practicality, to use fiberglass rather than wood and plywood, and also something that is essentially ecologically sound,” he said.

At first, watercraft consultant Ramon Binamira said, the fishermen were skeptical about the durability of fiberglass. They asked whether the material was strong enough to take the daily abuse that traditional boats have been able to absorb.

Skepticism quickly evaporated when a fiberglass banca passed a crucial "sledgehammer test."

Norberto dela Torre, 78, a fisherman from Tanauan, said he was impressed.

“What I can say is that the fiberglass boat is durable in water, while wooden boats can get rotten in water," he said. "Especially in muddy water, it easily gets grimy.”

The smaller bancas are intended for small-scale fishing, but the World Wildlife Fund hopes the new boat-building skills will help the fishermen design and create larger boats. And the new technology will help them better prepare for climate change and reduce pressure on forests that were also devastated by the last year’s storm.

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