ESP Primer

RP in danger of losing its coral reef biodiversity
By Antonio M. Claparols

The coral reef colonies of the Philippines, considered the "rainforest of the ocean" for the bio-megadiversity, could end up dead and with them the rich marinelife. The country is blessed with the richest coral reef in the world, said to be even richer than the Australian Great Barrier Reef. The Philippines as part of the Coral Triangle has the richest marine bio-diversity in the world.

The country has a coastline longer and larger than the continental United States and its surrounding waters can feed the most of Asia and the world if sustainable fishing practices are maintained.

Because of the live reef fish commerce the country's megadiversity is in danger. Most of the live fish catch in the Philippines are collected with the clandestine use of cyanide - a deadly broad spectrum poison also used in mining - dissolved in water and squirted into reef crevices. Stunned the fishes swim in crazy loops right into the waiting nets of catchers.

Aside from cyanide fishing, other destructive practices are antiquated methods of fishing such as muro ami, kayakas, trawl fishing. These destructive fishing methods contributed to the massive collapse of the country's coral reef colonies' vast expanse of 33,000 square kilometers. These days, a measly six coral reef colonies remains in good condition. The rest are either dead or in bad condition.

In the whole world, over 10 percent of coral reef colonies have been destroyed and lost of disease, coral bleaching, pollution and overfishing. More than 58 percent of coral reefs are considered under threat from human activities.

Although cyanide fishing is not the only cause of marine degradation - the others are dynamite fishing, overfishing, pollution, siltation, erosion and debris dumping - it is the one single most destructive factor in the whole seascape. It is not only a reef killer, it is also a brood stock killer. The culprit is the live food fish trade - mostly exports to Hong Kong - amounting to P66.5 million annually. Add to that the aquarium pet fish trade to the United States, Canada and Europe.

Over the last four decades some one million kilograms of cyanide had been squirted into the Philippines coral reef colonies. At the latest estimate, there are now some 6,000 divers using cyanide in the country. Live fish disgorge most of the cyanide in a few days. A certain minute level of the poison does not harm diners.

The Ecological Society of the Philippines (ESP) urges the Philippine government and its environment agencies to protect and conserve this vital marine food source. Failing in that the last bastion of natural capital and resources will be depleted and destroyed. Due to ever increasing value of coral reef colonies and the strong possibility they will continue to deteriorate due to man-induced and natural problems they will continue to deteriorate.

More innovative projects should be initiated for their protection. One such initiative is the setting up of Marine Protected Areas (MPA) where fishing is banned. Plus education for the fishing communities and enforcement of laws. Failing in this country will suffer from food shortages, increased poverty and an ecological disaster.

(Antonio M. Claparols is president of the Ecological Society of the Philippines and IUCN regional councilor) 

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Is there hope in Saving our environment and conserving the little natural resources we have left? Many ask? Yes, there is, but we have to act now and fast with vigilance and determined will to protect and conserve our fragile environment.

We have no choice but to act and the time is little for the ecological balance has tilted to the irreversible. So much must be done in so short time.

Already heat waves in the US, Russia, India, hit records highs. Droughts in Southeast Asia and other parts. Floods never experience before in Norway, weather patterns have never been worse. In our country after a prolonged drought, our planting season has dismal rainfall.

We are running out of water, our dams are still not filled. Our crops cannot be irrigated. Our agricultural produce has and will continue to decline.

The country is importing rice, corn, wheat and sugar, all traditional export. Our air is 300 times over the tolerable health limits. Poverty is on the rise. Food and mouth disease has struck not to mention red tide.

Our rivers run dry, our forest continue to de denuded. DENR and the government must address these environmental issues quickly.

We do not have the luxury of time. Sure, we must stop France from nuclear testing in the Pacific. Don't they know by know that we have only one ocean and one earth? Sure, we mush save Calauit, save Tubbattha and Apo reefs and save the Philippine Eagle, but let us save the Eagles home, the forest.

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El Ni�o

As we experience the impacts of what may prove to be the strongest El Ni�o year this century, attention has been drawn to the possibility that behavior of El Ni�o may be changing under the influence of human-induced climate change. The El Ni�o-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events are a semi-regular climatic phenomenon involving regional interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere.

The resulting climatic fluctuations alter the tracks of cyclones, cause droughts and floods, and on inter-annual basis, increase global temperatures. The 1982/83 ENSO event was the strongest of this century and one of the most costly, affecting more than two billion people. The 1997/98 ENSO event may probe to be stronger still.

The unusual behavior of El Ni�o in recent time has prompted considerable speculation over what lies behind recent events, and in particular, over the possible role of human induced climate change.

The is considerable concern that climate change and global warning will increase the severity and frequency of  ENSO events. Studies at the Macquarie University Climate Impact Centre in Australia show that ENSO could get struck in a permanent warn phase if climate change warms the Equatorial Pacific.

 The Land Below the Wind

"Here it stands, seemingly unshakable, a mighty mountain. One hour it is there, the next nowhere -- lost in the cloud world. Then there it is, safely back again at the first streak of day: that wonder lost twelve hours before, as the wet cold night clamped down across the most forest. It is back, that incredible backdrop of teeth and fangs, gulley, precipice, cliff, plateau, gorge, peak, projectile point -- you name it, Kinabalu has it, up there above you, black and tense looking as if forged in iron and dropped into place as a vast casting."

Surely this is the most complete statement of "I am a Mountain made anywhere on this Earth."

Tom Harrison

Sabah, in the Island of Borneo, is the fifth largest Island in the world. Also know as The Land Below the Wind, it is the home of the highest Mountain between the Himalayans and the peaks of New Guinea. Mt. Kinabalu stands at 4101 meters or 13,455 feet and has been described as the most wonderful mountain in the world.

It was our first time to visit Kota Kinabalu, capital of Sabah, one of the two provinces of Malaysia in the Island of Borneo, the other being Sarawak.

Mt. Kinabalu is host to one of the richest biological diversity in the world. It is home to over 12,5000 species of flora and over 100,000 species of invertebrates. Mt. Kinabalu is soon to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and is protected strictly by Law.

Sabah is fortunate enough to had the rate opportunity of starting development properly. They have put a premium on their natural resources, particularly their forest biodiversity and marine ecosystems.

We had the rare opportunity to do the canopy walk above their forest in Mt. Kinabalu. A unusual treat indeed where one feels in communion with nature. You are on top of the world with some of the most diverse flora and fauna.

As a Mangyan elder once said when asked, "Have you seen the Wild Tamaraws?" He replied, "Yes,"  but that was long ago, when the forest was filled with deer.

They value a tree so greatly, that it is considered the tree of life. Malaysia has contributed Carbon Sequestration to the world by protecting their forest thereby absorbing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas depletes the ozone layer and contributes to global warming and climate change, and secreting oxygen back to the atmosphere. Sabah has learned from the experiences of many countries and has put in place a National Biodiversity Programme that will conserve the future of its beautiful and healthy environment.

The First Regional Meeting was recently held in Sabah by IUCN - The World Conservation Union, which was attended by over 140 participants from over twenty countries. With the theme, "Securing Our Future in Asia's Changing Environment," The forum was a success and the participants were impressed by how the government of Sabah is managing their natural resources. There are over thirty (30) tribes surrounded by an abundance of biological diversity.

Let us learn from this experience so we may replicate it, protect and conserve our own environment for our generation and for those still unborn.

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The Ban on Coral Harvesting

Seven months ago the Animal Welfare Institute of Washington D.C. and the Underwater Ecological Society of the Philippines (UESP) embarked on a program to stop the continuous exportation of our already depleted coral reefs.

Coral Harvesting has been banned by a Presidential Decree, yet corals continue to get gathered in various provinces in the Philippines, notably the provinces of Batangas and Cebu, not to mention the many isolated islands of the achipelago.

As most of us know, the seas, rivers and streams are our major sources of protein food. But it is only because of the high diversity and productivity of our reefs that the offshore fishes are as rich as they are. And now, we are plagued with the fast degradation of this rich marine ecosystem.

How much longer will this situation prevail? Is it only the bureaucratic red tape that delays the implementation considerably?

With the kind assistance of Dr. E. Gomez of the U.P. Marine Science Center supplying the much-needed scientific information on the sad condition of our coral resources, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Natural Resources have now express official concern.

Meanwhile, armed with an arsenal of documents and letters of concern, our Washington counterpart was able to hold hearings with the representatives of the US House of Representative and the Senate. Senator Warren Magnuson and Honorable John Breaux of the House will always remain by-words to us for the support and concern they have extended to the environmental and ecological problems plaguing small, developing countries, particularly the Philippines with regards to corals.

The final report and findings of an extensive study conducted under the auspices for the UP Marine Science Center indicated that the US continues to be the largest imported of our coral resources, taking at least 56 percent, estimated at 107,525 cubic meter from the total export volume. Europe takes 33 percent and Japan, 18 percent. In 1977, Italy took the No.2 position, overtaking, It is our dream that if we succeed in stopping coral importation in the United States, the other countries will follow suit, and thus eliminate the market. The gathering of coral has long been prohibited, yet the practice has intensified due to obvious economic reasons. There will always be pirates as long as there remains a feasible market.

At the rate our coral reefs and other natural resources are being depleted, it is feared that someday our fish supply will no longer be sufficient for the rapidly increasing population.

The latest communication from Washington indicated that the banning of Philippine coral had received no opposition in both the House of Representative and the U.S. Senate. The enactment of the Environmental Bill in two to three months is 95 percent. Whatever the good news may be, we in Asia have not learned to jump with joy, unless the fruits of our labor are seen.

We only hope that the state officials from the "coral states," Florida and Hawaii, will not complain that the banning of Philippine corals will increase pressure on U.S. corals, and thus delay, if not shelve the bill. Let us hope that selfish individuals will not be obstacles to Ecology... and our own future.

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