Philippine reef status calls for urgent attention
By Gregorio dela Rosa, Jr.
The Great Barrier Reef’s condition is worsening. Philippine coral reefs are bound to the same fate unless we do something about it. Urgent words and warnings. Is there a way to stop our oceans from warming? What can we do?
Over the recent decades, divers and scientists have witnessed firsthand the alarming damage to the reefs that are vital to the health of the Philippine seas.
Last year, a team of divers and marine biologists recorded the occurrence of coral bleaching on the reefs inside and outside of 19 marine protected areas (MPAs) in Lanuza Bay, Surigao del Sur.
"Corals were bleaching between depths of three (10 feet) to 30 meters (98 feet), left and right," said the Haribon Foundation.
The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the US government raised the bleaching status in Eastern Philippines to Alert Level 2, the highest alert level, in July 2017.
Why corals turn white
There are many reasons why corals bleach. It takes place when water temperatures rise, during extreme low tides, high solar light and thru run-off from pollution.
When bleaching happens, corals lose their zooxanthellae, the algae that lives inside them in symbiosis or mutually beneficial relationship. Zooxanthellae provide corals 80% of its food and are what gives them their color. Without them, corals turn white or very pale.
Different species were losing their zooxanthellae as the temperature rose to 30˚C in Lanuza Bay.
Once corals turn white, they become very susceptible to disease. They also lose their ecosystem functions including carbon sequestration, sheltering fishes and other marine life, protection from strong waves, etc.
But while they appear like 'graveyards' for a time, corals can actually recover as long as the water cools down, pollutants are removed, overfishing and other threats are stopped.
Year of the Reef
The International Coral Reef Initiative declared 2018 as the third International Year of the Reef (IYOR). IYOR is a global effort to help raise awareness and urge conservation action on the world's reefs.
The first IYOR was marked in 1997 in response to the increasing threats and loss of coral reefs, primarily for the largest bleaching event that occurred in recent history. The second IYOR happened in 2008 bringing to attention the value of reefs as a source of livelihood and calamity protection.
This year's IYOR also seeks to promote partnerships among governments, the private sector, academia and civil society on the management of coral reefs.
The marine protected areas in Lanuza Bay are managed by community-based organizations and local governments. The monitoring of the MPAs and the reporting of coral bleaching events will help managers to develop ways on how to prevent poaching, pollution and other threats from entering the MPAs. This is in coordination with several initiatives where Haribon is involved in including the Marine Protected Area Support Network (MSN) and the Philippine Coral Bleaching Watch, an online reporting for bleaching utilizing citizen science.
Through the Strengthening the Marine Protected Areas to Conserve Marine Key Biodiversity Areas in the Philippines Project, or SMARTSeas, Haribon supports the marine protected area management in Lanuza Bay.
The project is implemented by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
About Haribon Foundation
Haribon Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources, Inc. is a membership organization committed to nature conservation through community empowerment and scientific excellence. Hatched in 1972, it is the pioneer environmental organization in the Philippines. Haribon’s natural and social scientists work with communities and people from all levels governance to promote biodiversity conservation.