Philippines’ excellent coral reefs ‘less than 5%’

THE Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) urged on Friday increased participation of stakeholders in managing marine protected areas (MPAs) amid the deterioration of the country’s coral reefs.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said that in terms of coral cover, only “less than five percent” of the country’s coral reefs are in excellent condition, while “40 percent are in poor condition.”

“They are faced with constant threats, mostly from humans. It is only fitting that we counter these threats by involving those who stand to benefit the most from improved coral reef condition — the stakeholders,” he said.

Threats to coral reefs include overfishing, destructive fishing practices, unsustainable development in coastal areas, sedimentation, and pollution. Of these, the largest threat is overfishing, followed by destructive fishing practices, such as dynamite fishing and trawling.

Paje cited how the effective management of the Tubbataha Reef in Palawan, the Apo Reef in Mindoro Occidental, and Sarangani Bay in Mindanao as national MPAs under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (Nipas) Act has led to improved coral reef condition. This has boosted fish diversity, as well as enhanced fisheries contribution at an annual rate of 10-30 tons of fish per square kilometer of reef in the area.

In contrast, he noted that marine habitats in the Visayas region experienced the most degradation due to overexploitation of resources. A survey of 66 MPAs in eight different provinces showed MPAs in Bohol, Negros Oriental, Siquijor, and Davao Del Sur with coral reefs in poor condition.

Coral reefs in Palawan MPAs were categorized as “fair,” while those in Batangas fell under “fair” to “good.” Cebu and Sarangani MPAs, on the other hand, showed an “excellent” coral reef area.

Further, destructive fishing and sedimentation have been pinpointed as the cause of the degradation in rich coral reef and sea-grass habitats in areas such as the Danajon Double Barrier Reef in northern Bohol island; portions of western Palawan island; Lingayen Gulf in northern Luzon; and parts of other major islands like Marinduque and Mindoro.

Studies have indicated that MPAs protected for at least five years produce healthier fish populations. But with most of the country’s MPAs managed by local government units (LGUs), policies in enforcement, funding and other management issues are often affected by shifting priorities as LGU heads change after elections.

Paje said aside from the LGU, other stakeholders for MPAs include local fisherfolk; the tourism, fishing, and aquaculture industry; the academe and researchers; conservation organizations; and water hobby or sports organizations.

MPAs are regions where human activity is restricted to allow conservation of the natural environment and ecosystems found within the area. Improved MPA management would reduce human pressures on the marine environment and allow coral reefs and other forms of marine life to recover. (SDR/Sunnex)

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