SEA (Science, Education and Advocacy) institute board members urged the public to protect and preserve the richness of Verde Island Passage (VIP) due to threatening harmful human acts and climate change to prevent VIP’s catastrophe.
It is currently vulnerable because of destructive industrial activity, chemical and water pollution, human waste, unsustainable fishing practices, careless tourism and climate change despite being declared a national priority.
“We think it’s not only important but an obligation to help the local community understand why we’re there, and why the reefs are important,” Board Advisor and California-based scientist Dr. Margaret ‘Meg’ Burke said.
According to another SEA Board Advisor and Filipino scientist, Dr. Wilfredo ‘Al’ Licuanan, VIP has the highest concentration of species and the richest reefs in the world, also known as the global center of shore-fish biodiversity.
Its coral reefs give shelter for numerous marine species, and also give essential nutrients such as nitrogen and aid nutrient cycling (decomposing organic matter into inorganic nutrients) which are both important roles of the coral reefs in the food chain.
The 1.14 million hectares strait, from Batangas to Romblon, houses species such as whale sharks, six sea turtle species, nudibranchs or sea slugs, almost 600 reef-building corals, more than 2,000 reef fish species and a multitude of over 400 coral species.
These waters remain to produce new species, discovering a hundred species in 2015 and 14 new species in 2018 including various sea slugs.
The evolution of new species is fostered by being isolated in an archipelago like the Philippines. Strong currents also allow a variety of marine species to thrive there.
The 600km coastline which encompasses the passage is also home to marine species from both subtropical and tropical climate zones and around 60 percent of the world’s marine species. The passage is also located at the convergence of Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Furthermore, VIP has two scientifically-backed titles which are being the “Center of the Center of Marine Shorefish Biodiversity” and the “Center of the Center of the Marine Biodiversity of the World.”
It is also one of the most thriving waterways in the Philippines as it produces food and livelihood for the Philippine economy such as coastal tourism, fisheries, and as transportation for goods and packages to the international ports of Batangas, Manila and Subic Bay. According to Licuanan, its corals also contribute up to P4B a year to the economy.
Meanwhile, Board Director and California-based researcher Dr. Terry Gosliner also stated that VIP is the richest part of the ocean because it is resilient to the climate as the entire coral damage from a wide coral bleaching incident, nearly vanished when the scientists got back to VIP six weeks after the incident.
Licuanan said that the corals that went through bleaching had started to reclaim their color as they were taking in new algae.
A wide coral bleaching incident happened due to El Niño which massacred countless coral reefs. Coral bleaching happens if ocean temperatures rise because of global warming which can cause a negative impact on the fishing and tourism business.
VIP has steady warm temperatures in its ocean which allows the cultivation and nourishing of species however global warming continues to threaten their existence, not just because of coral bleaching but from human activities damaging its ecosystem.
He called out the need to monitor the reefs as the passage holds innate resilience which demands further studies.
“There is great hope that the Verde Island Passage can repopulate other parts of the Philippines,” he said.
He also said that about a third of the total coral population was lost due Climate change however human act is more to be blamed than climate change in the degradation of
coral reefs. He recommended the public to take vital measures to know what to do to prevent the destruction of VIP.
Burke also asked for the involvement of the citizens and its communities to bring focus on the reefs.
“We still have time to protect the richest reefs in the world… our treasure trove of biodiversity on this plane,” Gosliner said.
Furthermore, nearby province officials around VIP, marine advocates, and stakeholders have been requesting to declare the passage as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage.
The passage is also acknowledged for the formation and administration of national integrated protected areas system (NIPAS) or Republic Act 7586 by the DENR Calabarzon.
The SEA Institute is a non-profit organization for VIP. Every 4th week of September is VIP Conservation Awareness Week.
The forum titled happened on September 19 for Verde Island Passage Awareness Week in De La Salle University – College of Saint Benilde.