With over 36,000 km of coastline, it’s not surprising that the Philippines has the world’s richest marine ecosystem. Nestled in the so called ‘coral triangle’ which is home to more than three quarters of the world’s coral species and over 2000 marine plants and animals, the Philippines truly is a diver’s paradise.
Vast coral reefs, sea grass beds, and dense mangroves are home to such species as eagle rays, pygmy seahorses, blue ringed octopuses, and dugongs (better known as ‘sea cows’). Whale sharks and scythe-tail thresher sharks can also be found here, along with 6 out of 7 of the world’s endangered species of turtles.
Reefs nurture life in the sea and are natural habitants for thousands of marine species. A square kilometre of healthy coral reef may yield to about 30 tons of fish every year.
There is however trouble in these waters. A host of harmful activities such as pollution, urbanisation, destructive fishing practices, as well as the warming of waters through climate change, has resulted in a huge population decline in the Philippines’ different underwater ecosystems. It is estimated that 20% of sea grass areas have been destroyed, that 70% of mangrove areas are damaged, and that 90% of coral reefs are endangered. Only 1% of the Philippines’ marine ecosystems remain pristine.
The natural abundance of the water benefits more than half of the Philippines’ 98 million citizens, so the destruction marine life is felt throughout the country.
Conservation projects are now thriving though. Just off the south-eastern tip of the province of Negros is Apo Island, which was the first area in the Philippines to adopt a marine conservation programme in 1982. This programme was mainly aimed at stopping harmful fishing techniques (such as blast fishing) but showed that through education and local cooperation, fish stocks could be increased three fold just by sustainable fishing.
Apo Island has served as a model for fishing communities and there are now over 750 sanctuaries nationwide. In addition to these projects supported by locals, there are also a number of non-profit organisations. These organisations are focused on gathering more scientific data, planting coral in degraded areas, and putting pressure on local governments to put in place their own projects of restoration.
Awareness is key and it seems as though the process of restoring and protecting the Philippines’ marine population has really been set in motion.