Scientists Warn: Climate Change Will Devastate Country’s Seas

Scientists Warn: Climate Change Will Devastate Country’s Seas

Climate change will severely devastate the Philippines’ rich marine ecosystems, a team composed of experts from Greenpeace, Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation (CCEF) and the Institute of Environmental and Marine Sciences (IEMS) of Silliman University said on July 12, as they raised the alarm on the need to save the country’s seas.

The warning came as the Greenpeace ship Esperanza docked in Dumaguete City after assisting in a reef check to inspect the condition of the marine sanctuary in nearby Apo Island. Home to the country’s premier community-managed marine reserve, some of Apo Island’s reefs have borne the brunt of two strong typhoons, which are highly unusual occurrences in this part of the country.

“Climate change and the use of fossil fuels are the ocean’s silent killers,” said Mr. Mark Dia, Regional Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “They warm the oceans and make the sea water more acidic, killing fragile and important marine species, such as plankton, the basis of the marine food chain. Since the Philippines relies so heavily on the oceans, it only makes sense to put resources that can increase the resiliency of the marine environment.  Our lives depend on it.”


(Photo of the coral reef in Apo Island, dubbed as one of the world's best diving spots, by Steve De Neef/Greenpeace)

Climate change is considered a very serious threat to the oceans globally. Rising temperatures due to global warming causes thermal stress in oceans, and in particular causes coral bleaching (when living coral turn white, weaken and eventually die). Marine life is also damaged by ocean acidification, when excessive amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere cause sea water to become more acidic. Ocean acidification can cause mass extinction of marine species, food insecurity and damage to economy.

Just recently the World Bank released a report Turn Down The Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience. The report projects that extreme weather events are going to be more severe in Southeast Asia in the coming decades. By 2050, increased water temperatures will severely affect fish in the Java Sea in Indonesia as well as the Gulf of Thailand. In southern Philippines, maximum fish catch potential is predicted to decrease by 50 percent. Meanwhile, all coral reefs in the region are predicted to experience severe thermal stress by the year 2050.

Experts have long noted the Philippine seas are set to suffer from the impacts of climate change such as rising sea level, increase in sea temperature, and more frequent and extreme weather. Communities, particularly those that rely heavily in coastal resources, such as in the Philippines, will bear the brunt of the impacts.

“One of the effects of climate change that the Philippines is experiencing right now is the increase in the frequency and severity of typhoons,” said Dr. Janet Estacion, OIC Director of IEMS. “Since most Filipinos live in coastal areas, they are directly impacted through the destruction of property and disruption of livelihood. Fisherfolk become more marginalized as the marine ecosystems they depend on are destroyed and fish migration patterns get less predictable.”

But there is hope. In the central Philippines, including Apo Island, studies are ongoing to help marine ecosystems cope with the effects of climate change. Led by Dr. Aileen Maypa, Research Director of CCEF, research on how reefs can adapt to the impacts of climate change and how these can be mitigated is currently being conducted. The organization is developing a protocol for coral reef recovery, fisheries recovery and coral reef rehabilitation that can be used by local communities and LGUs. They are also looking into the redesigning of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), including the establishment of a network of MPAs, as a resiliency strategy to climate change, while considering the many factors that may impact the effectiveness of a MPA design.

“The threat of climate change impacts is a clear signal that the Philippine government needs to urgently enact a Roadmap to Recovery for our oceans,” said Dia. “We need to stop the additional stresses of overfishing and habitat degradation. And we need to defend our oceans now more than ever. The seas need all the resilience they can muster in the face of climate change and the potentially disastrous impacts this is already beginning to produce in the marine world and coastal communities.”

The Esperanza is in the Philippines for the “Ocean Defender Tour of Southeast Asia 2013”.  The tour aims to tell the story of the richness and the beauty of the Philippine seas, expose destruction that causes marine degradation and sound the alarm to call for urgent government action to save the Philippine seas from crisis.

The ship is docked in Dumaguete until July 14. She will be open to the public for free tours on July 13. Filipinos are encouraged to sign up as an Ocean Defender at to join a growing movement dedicated to helping protect our seas. (Issued by Greenpeace)