Government pressed to do more to save country’s remaining corals

Posted on June 06, 2012

THE PHILIPPINES has been advised to increase "no-take" marine zones, among others, to protect the biodiversity of the country’s coral cover, said to be the third largest in the world.

SCUBA DIVERS of the Sarangani Environmental Conservation and Protection Center and Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office prepare to position artificial reef domes in Sarangani Bay in this May 23 photo provided by the provincial government.
"There are about 1,000 marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Philippines, some of them already no-take areas," said Terry Hughes, director of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, in his keynote speech at a forum on the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) on Tuesday in Manila.

No-take marine zones are areas of the marine environment permanently closed to all forms of extraction of resources, primarily fisheries, he explained.


"The ban lets species within the enclosure propagate, which will effectively reseed the area’s surrounding seascape and increase fish biomass by enhancing egg production," Mr. Hughes said.

Citing a 2009 study conducted by Filipino and Australian scientists on the effectiveness of MPAs in the Philippines for biodiversity conservation, he said that current no-take MPAs -- 85% of which are in just two sites -- cover just 0.5% of the country’s municipal waters and 2.7-3.4% of coral reef areas in the Philippines.

Republic Act No. 8550, or The Philippines Fisheries Code of 1998, requires 15% of coastal municipal waters to be protected within no-take MPAs. Likewise, the Philippine Marine Sanctuary Strategy of 2004 aimed to protect 10% of coral reef areas in no-take MPAs by 2020.

The Philippines, said Mr. Hughes, ranks third in the world in terms of total coral coverage, next to Indonesia and Australia.

"The Philippines has been exemplary in terms of how marine governance is progressing through time. The country has been actively promoting the importance of locally managed marine reserves," he said.

However, to progress further and ensure a sustainable future for the country’s marine resources, it is necessary to continue working towards improving marine management, he added.


According to Mr. Hughes, among the threats to the world’s coral reefs are population growth and migration, as well as increasing wealth and consumption which has led to the evolution of the fisheries global market, runoff from land, over-fishing and climate change.

Aside from the declaration of more no-take marine areas, he said that the country can also address threats by shifting towards sustainable aquaculture practices, improvement of marine governance systems and public education.

The shift to sustainable aquaculture helps preserve diversity of marine species, while public education will increase awareness of the benefits of such a shift, Mr. Hughes explained.

"We also need to emphasize the interconnection between people and the ecosystem," he added.

This connection, he said, is one that is addressed by the CTI, of which the Philippines is a member.

"The Coral Triangle Initiative, which works towards saving coral reefs, fisheries and ensuring long-term food security, is a great example of a program that establishes the obvious link between human welfare and biodiversity," said Mr. Hughes.

The initiative is a regional cooperation program launched in 2009 by Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste -- the countries surrounding the Coral Triangle -- aimed at sustaining the marine and coastal resources in the area.

The Coral Triangle is a six million square kilometer area containing one of the world’s widest varieties of corals, fish and other marine life. Thousands of coastal communities are dependent on preservation of such resources for their food and livelihood.

"The challenge for us, especially for the CTI, is to work towards the goal of having seas that are sustainable from an ecological perspective and a human well-being perspective," said Mr. Hughes.

Climate change, he said, while a global phenomenon, can be mitigated through proper fisheries management, which can be undertaken by communities themselves.

"Reefs are threatened at regional scales, but not doomed if we can avoid extreme climate change. Prevention is better than cure," he said.

Among key points mentioned by Mr. Hughes were to ensure that the approach to marine biodiversity conservation is ecosystem-based as well as improvement of protection of threatened species.

"Countries host to corals, like those in the Coral Triangle area, also need to establish a networked approach to saving the resources contained within the area. The scale of all the threats to coral reefs requires unprecedented international cooperation," he stressed.

Mr. Hughes noted that while countries on their own cannot return damaged resources to their original state, joint efforts towards ensuring sustainability of marine resources should reap results.

"The challenge is to ensure that our seas have a future," Mr. Hughes said.

"The decisions we make now will have profound long-term effects." -- Bettina Faye V. Roc