News Commentary

RP chosen center of marine biodiversity

- Katherine Adraneda -
International marine scientists have regarded the Philippines as the "Center of Marine Biodiversity" in the world, surpassing the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.

Scientists, however, warned the Philippine government that the rapid deterioration of the country’s marine resources could destroy the nation’s natural heritage.

Marine biologist Dr. Kent Carpenter, coordinator of the Global Marine Species Assessment of the World Conservation Union, said the government should implement measures to protect and conserve the country’s vast species of marine and coastal resources.

Carpenter said among the best marine sanctuaries in the country is the Verde Island Passage located between Batangas and Mindoro island which has been declared as the "Center of the Center of Marine Shorefish Biodiversity," where a vast species of fish can be found.

He commended the country’s excellent laws, best scientists, 400 marine protected areas (MPAs), and the highly dedicated people, but expressed concern over the weak enforcement of the laws.

Carpenter led the launching yesterday of the "Center of the Center" campaign at the Shangri-La Hotel in Makati City, which is intended to raise public awareness to preserve the Verde Island Passage to protect the marine biodiversity in the area.

Carpenter and Dr. Victor Springer have completed a study called "The Center of the Center of Marine Shorefish Biodiversity: The Philippine Islands," which identified the country as home to an astonishingly vast marine life, refuting previous studies indicating that Indonesia holds the highest fish diversity.

"The Philippines has the international obligation (to protect and conserve its rich marine biodiversity because) if these species are lost, then the rest of the world will also be (affected)," Carpenter said.

He said the Sulu-Sulawesi corridor at the sea border between the Philippines and Indonesia is the heart of the so-called "Coral Triangle," connecting the Philippines, Indonesia, and Papua New

Guinea that boasts of a great variety of species of marine resources.

The Coral Triangle has 600 species of corals, 1,200 species of finfishes, 700 species of algae, 33 species of mangrove, five out of seven known species of sea turtles, and at least 24 species of crustaceans.

Results from the preliminary geographical information system (GIS) analysis made by Carpenter and Springer, however, revealed that from the 2,983 combined ranges of generalized maps of marine species in the Coral Triangle, the central Philippines came out as the area with the highest marine biodiversity.

The area between Malaysia and Sumatra, Indonesia only came in second, according to the study by Carpenter and Springer.

Some studies have identified Indonesia as the area with the highest coral reef fish diversity, but Carpenter and Springer’s findings pointed out that Indonesia might have greater marine biodiversity because of its bigger area, but the Philippines has a higher concentration of species per unit area.

The study of Carpenter and Springer, however, showed that the country’s marine biodiversity "is in trouble" because of the increasing threat to the marine environment.

The degradation of the marine habitat in the Philippines could lead to the extinction of species, the study said.

"Knowledge of the underlying processes that govern uneven biodiversity distribution is crucial to understanding ecology for effective conservation. Clearly, marine conservation efforts in the Philippines warrant special attention," the study said.

The threat to country’s marine resources had prompted the Conservation International-Philippines (CI-Philippines), First Gen Corp., and First Philippines Conservation Inc. (FPCI) to forge a partnership to confront the challenges facing the country’s marine biodiversity.

The CI-Philippines is undertaking a three-year marine conservation initiative, the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape Project, which will build a strong foundation for a long-term conservation program to address threats to the biological diversity of the Sulu and Sulawesi seas.

The project hopes to implement a sustainable strategy to conserve the marine biodiversity in the area by 2012. The project covers Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Monitoring will be focused on the Cagayan Ridge corridor in the middle of the Sulu Sea, Balabac Strait corridor in Southern Palawan, Verde Island Passage between Batangas and Mindoro, and the Sea Turtle corridor, covering Borneo and Malaysia to the Turtle Islands in the Philippines and East Kalimantan in Indonesia.

CI-Philippines, First Gen Corp., and FPCI would work together on the Verde Island Integrated Conservation and Development Program to prevent habitat destruction, through strict law enforcement and population management.

The three organizations have begun the first phase of the conservation program in December 2004 with Verde island as the pilot area.

"The Verde Island Passage is one of the country’s richest fishing grounds and top tourist destination," the CI-Philippines noted.

"The presence of port and energy facilities (like oil, gas, and geothermal) plus unsustainable fishing methods, including illegal and destructive fishing, pose a grave threats to the marine resources of the area," it added.

According to the CI-Philippines, threatened species include sea turtles like hawksbills, olive ridleys, and green turtles; humphead wrasses, giant groupers and giant clams that thrive in the Verde Island Passage.

The area has more than 300 species of corals, which is considered one of the largest concetratgion of corals in the country.

Carpenter’s diving trips in many parts of the country revealed that Verde Island has the highest number of species, thus declaring it the Center of Marine Shorefish Biodiversity.

He particularly noted the rare red fin wrasse (cirrhilabrus rubripinnis) thrives in Verde Island.

Carpenter stressed that there is an urgency to ensure the preservation of the marine resources in the area.

He said illegal fishing persist despite existing laws in the Philippines which could solve the problem.

He warned officials of the unregulated shipping lanes that pass through marine biodiversity corridors in the country like Guimaras island which was hit by a massive oil spill last Aug. 11.

Verde Island Passage is a popular domestic sea route connecting Batangas, Marinduque, Mindoro Occidental, Mindoro Oriental and Romblon.

"The Philippines is in the crossroads and it needs to take advantage of that in terms of economic support," Carpenter said.

He said the government should balance livelihood and preserving its national and natural heritage.

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