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Sunday Lifestyle

Let us cherish our beautiful yet endangered seas

WILL SOON FLOURISH - Wilson Lee Flores - The Philippine Star

The cure for anything is salt water — sweat, tears, or the sea.  — Isak Dinesen

We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch — we are going back from whence we came…— John F. Kennedy                       

We know that when we protect our oceans we’re protecting our future. — Bill Clinton

It is fascinating that despite the archipelagic nature of the Philippines, most of us in our society are not very aware of or fully appreciate our beautiful seas and the majestic Pacific Ocean — over 155 million square kilometers of it — right beside us to the east. 

How many of us know that we have the world’s second-largest archipelago and the fifth longest coastline of 36,289 kilometers with breathtakingly unique marine ecosystems, with more beautiful coral-fringed isles beyond Boracay and Bohol, as well as among the best surfing, diving and snorkeling areas?

The first time I ever heard of a place called “Malapascua Island” was in December 2006 at the lobby of a five-star hotel in Chengdu City, China from European tourists raving about diving there, but up to now I haven’t been there yet.

Not only are we not tourists in our isles and seas; in fact, I’ll never forget a British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) report by Charlotte Parsons on April 11, 2002 entitled “Swimmers rare in land of water” saying that many of us here in the Philippines — this writer included — do not even know how to swim! (I will learn to swim this year, no more excuses of “no time.”)

The BBC report said: “In a nation comprised of some 7,000 islands, scuba-diving businesses complain of being unable to recruit locals because they cannot pass a simple swimming test.” Perhaps our schools should add swimming classes to our curriculum?

Today, on World Oceans Day, I wish to pay tribute to the incomparable beauty and vastness of the mysterious ocean and the seas that make up 71 percent of the surface of our planet Earth and which nourish us humans.

Nobody could logically be an atheist, if he or she just tries to explore the wonders and awesome beauty of our oceans. The singer Beyoncé Knowles said: “The ocean makes me feel really small and it makes me put my whole life into perspective… it humbles you and makes you feel almost like you’ve been baptized. I feel born again when I get out of the ocean.”

It seems I have a natural affinity for the sea. Years ago, I was delighted to discover that my paternal ancestors originated from a rural village in Fujian province called “Chiochun” in Hokkien and “Shizhen” in Mandarin, located in an area with mountains and right beside the sea. 

When, years ago, I met a Hong Kong-based British yachtsman who had a special interest in ancient Chinese junk boats, I asked how long it would have taken my paternal ancestors from Fujian province of south China to travel via junk boat to the Spanish colony of the Philippines 200 years ago, circa 1790. He replied that what now takes just two hours of travel time via Philippine Airlines or Cebu Pacific Air from Xiamen to Manila would have taken my great-great-great-granduncle Dy Pi-Phay and later on his nephew my great-great-great-grandfather Dy Siu Gam more than a week via junk boat. Wow! If I just had the guts, I would want to try and replicate that ocean journey!

I’ve always admired the sea. Despite my not knowing yet how to swim, among my all-time favorite destinations for vacations are seaside places. Rivers and lakes are fine, but I believe nothing compares with beholding the changing pastel colors of sunset by the ocean or sleeping with the background music of the rhythmic rolling sea waves.

In non-major classes in painting I took while an Ateneo business student, among my favorite subjects were seascapes with either boats or ships.

Protect our world-class Corals, Seagrass & Mangroves

A few days ago, I received from the Philippine office of Greenpeace Southeast Asia some startling facts that should awaken our environmental conscience. Greenpeace reported on the threatened marine ecosystems in our Philippine seas.

• With 10 percent of the world’s total coral reefs and third only in size to Australia and Indonesia, we have 26,000 square kilometers of corals with 464 species, but only one percent is in good condition; sadly 40 percent is in poor condition, as is 98 percent of our coral reef. Why? These are threatened by over-fishing, destructing fishing and watershed-based pollution.

• The Philippines has the world’s second most number of seagrass species, next only to Australia. We have 27,282 square kilometers of seagrass with 19 species, but a shocking 30 percent to 40 percent have been lost over the last 50 years! Why? Siltation or sedimentation, pollution, eutrophication, nutrient loading, dredging and unsustainable fishing practices are grave threats.

• No other country on earth has more mangrove species than the Philippines. We have 210,497 square kilometers of mangroves with 42 species, but they are threatened by conversion to agriculture, aquaculture, saltponds, human settlements and coastal development. Despite the government ban on mangrove conversions and cutting, a lot of mangroves continue to be cleared.

The Greenpeace report said our Philippine fisheries production “registered a staggering 164 percent increase from 0.99 million metric tons in 1970 to 2.614 million metric tons in 2010. Most of these increases occurred from year 2000 to 2010.” 

The international non-governmental organization Greenpeace urges the government to “immediately address the two-pronged crisis of marine ecosystem degradation and over-fishing by ensuring that the protection, rehabilitation, and conservation of Philippine seas are a national priority.”

We need decisive political will, public awareness as well as sustained multi-sectoral efforts to protect our endangered seas.

Let us decisively act to lessen pollution, curb over-fishing to allow our fishes and other marine resources to replenish, strictly enforce laws against destructive fishing, promote ecotourism in our sea areas and establish more marine protected areas.

How can we protect, cherish and express our appreciation for the ocean in this 21st century when we human beings are supposedly “more intelligent,” more high-tech, yet often shockingly boundless in our carelessness, avarice and foolhardiness? How can we fulfill our moral obligation to future generations to bequeath them our beautiful seas?

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Thanks for your feedback! E-mail [email protected] or follow WilsonLeeFlores on Twitter, Facebook and http://willsoonflourish.blogspot.com/.

AUSTRALIA AND INDONESIA

BILL CLINTON

BORACAY AND BOHOL

BRITISH BROADCASTING CORP

GREENPEACE

OCEAN

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