Have you ever been to a marine sanctuary? Do fishes welcome your arrival in the marine protected area and say “Hello, Welcome Visitor!”? Though it seems unbelievable, for a sea guardian in Gilutongan island, an interaction between man and fish is possible. This man I’m talking about is locally known as “Noy Toti” and he literally talks to the fishes for more than a decade. His story will help us understand the gap between man and fishes and how to break it by just a simple act of friendship.

According to “Noy Toti”, man and fish are enemies since the relationship between the two organisms is predation – a type of ecological relationship that is oppositional. The man serves as the predator while fish serves as the prey being hunted by man as foods. This is the gap between man and fish, they are naturally not friends with each other. However, positive interaction between man and fishes may change everything and create a paradigm shift where the relationship between the two organisms becomes mutualism.

A living example of positive interaction between man and fish is “Noy Toti” himself. He protects fishes and all other marine lives within the Gilutongan Marine Sanctuary (GMS) which he compared to a banking institution. As a bank, GMS needs a security guard and he identified himself as the guardian of the bank of fishes. The only unique thing about GMS is that people can withdraw even without a deposit as good management results to spillover. This symbiotic relationship between Man and fish paved way not just for Noy Toti, but also for the rest of the local residents to benefit out from the blessings and booming tourism brought by the presence of the sanctuary.

The secret behind the success of Gilutongan Marine Sanctuary being a model of wise and sustainable use of coastal resources lies on the very simple act of friendship demonstrated by Noy Toti. In 1991 when the community just started reviving the sea of Gilutongan, he used sound waves as the medium to attract fishes by hitting stainless steel against a stone. The strategy was effective because fishes were able to notice and attracted to him without fear. As a school of fish approached Noy Toti, he usually cracked sea urchins to feed the fishes. But later on, after five years when he started making salary out from guarding the sanctuary, he began using his mouth to attract the fishes by talking to them from the bottom of his heart. He was doing this every time he snorkeled to feed the fishes using a bread.

But Noy Toti’s use of bread as food for the fishes brought him to a confrontation with a marine biologist and scientist insisting that bread is not their natural food. But he asked the biologist and scientist if they knew the gap between man and fishes, the question surprised the expert who was unable to answer his question. He then told the expert that the gap between man and fishes is that both organisms are not friendly to each other. This is why Noy Toti used bread to break that gap so that fishes will feel his love for them. He also added, when you are in the Marine Sanctuary, fishes will play and greet you “Hi!, Hello! Welcome, Where is my bread?” and if you don’t have bread, fish will ignore you. But he advised us not to confuse ourselves if fish don’t understand us when we talk to them because they just have fish’s minds specifically anchovies.

So I hope Noy Toti has been great enlightenment to you in breaking the gap between Man and fishes. Asked about what makes him stay on this endeavor for more than three decades. He mentioned three reasons. First, he wants to feel the happiness of Adan as a steward of God and understand what God would want his steward to do for his creations. Second, he wants to know the difference between something that was taken care of and something that was not or was ignored. Third, he loves the project (referring to Gilutongan Marine Sanctuary). If you don’t love the project, who else can take care to sustain that? There’s none than those who love the project, he says.