Graduate Researcher Cites Threats to Rich Philippine Marine Life

Graduate Researcher Cites Threats to Rich Philippine Marine Life

A graduate student researcher at the Institute of Environmental and Marine Sciences (IEMS) churned out the numbers to show the rich and diverse marine resources of the Philippines and how much the country stands to lose if threats to these resources are not removed.

Jean Asuncion T. Utzurrum presented her data  for the appreciation of 30 young environmentalists at the Sea and Earth Advocates (SEA) Camp organized this summer by Save the Philippine Seas movement in partnership with U.S. Embassy Manila.

Citing various sources, Utzurrum said the Philippines is blessed with the following resources:

  • 36,289 km of coastline; 2.2 million sq km territorial waters; 679,800 sq km territorial sea (up to 12 nautical miles)
  • 35 species of mangroves  
  • 19 species of seagrass (Phil. has 2nd highest seagrass diversity in the world,  next to Australia)
  • 820 spp of algae
  • >480 spp of corals
  • > 5,000 spp of invertebrates and 26 spp of marine mammals
  • 5 spp of sea turtles and 3 spp of sea snakes
  • About 3,212 spp of fish (1,755 are reef-associated and 731 commercially important)
  • 111 confirmed species of sharks and rays, 56 unconfirmed spp, 34 undescribed spp, 4 new spp described in past 5 years
  • Utzurrum said these resources are being seriously threatened by illegal wildlife trade, global warming, habitat alteration, fishing and pollution.

Illegal wildlife trade, for instance, involves overharvesting of triton shells, predator of crown-of-thorns seastars, which in turn destroy corals, thus threatening coral reefs around the world.

Global warming, which is now moving much faster than ever, is known to cause ocean acidification, which causes coral bleaching.

Global warming may also have effects on typhoon intensity and frequency, such as Sendong in 2011 and Pablo in 2013 that damaged 99% of the Apo Island Marine Reserve in Dauin. Researchers from SU-IEMS and Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation (CCEF), in partnership with the Apo Island Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), have conducted experimental coral rehabilitation in the reserve since 2013, she said.

Habitat alteration, such as reclamation of seas and conversion of inland ecosystems to farmland or industries, causes soil erosion and coastal siltation. For instance, CNN reported that China’s reclamation in the South China Sea destroyed 1.2 sq km of coral reef, causing annual estimated loss of $100 million to coastal nations.

In the Philippines, commercial fishing has tripled since the 1970s, but there is no monitoring of municipal or artisanal fishing which could be a larger threat.

Trash that ends up in the sea is deadly to marine animals. A whale shark stranded in Ilog, Negros Occidental, in 2011 was found to have plastics in its stomach. A hawksbill turtle rescued in 2013 was unable to dive underwater. Utzurrum said: “I observed its feces and saw trash like balloon, nylon, plastic fragments, and pebbles with rubbery consistency. Soon after expelling those trash, it made a full recovery and we were able to successfully release it back to the sea. These are just some examples of how deadly trash can be,” Utzurrum said.

Ensuring food security is central to the environmental question. Utzurrum asked: “If we are about to stop illegal fishing, or we need to protect these species, what will happen to the fishers and our food supply? Marine reserves and other fishing regulations limit food production while our food consumption remains the same. Are we directing pressure on other resources in this process?”  

“Better understanding of species is needed in order to make appropriate recommendations for their protection.  We need to know what habitat type they live in to know what areas to protect. This not just about the socio-economic issues impacting fishers. This is about long-term food security for everyone.”

“Because different species and different ecosystems are exposed to different situations and different pressures, we need science. We need more information. For people like you, who are studying sciences, information is really the key. You have to study hard for the people to take you seriously.  Without scientific recommendations, government will not listen to you.”  (Nova Veraley V. Grafe and Celia E. Acedo, SU Research and Environmental News Service)