To culminate the Month of the Ocean, the regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR-7) has installed a reef monitoring system off Mactan Island and conducted mangrove planting and coastal clean-up activities in the area.
Cebu was among the areas chosen for the implementation of the Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structure (ARMS).
“Mactan Island is one of the four areas chosen for ARMS including Corregidor Island in Cavite, Snake Island in Palawan and Camiguin in Misamis Oriental,” said Regional Executive Director Isabelo Montejo.
He said Mactan Island, being one of the richest reefs in the country, was selected as it may harbor certain species as yet undiscovered.
“There are other marine organisms that are not usually visible to the human eye and could not be detected through line or point intercepts, photo-transect, fish visual census and reef checks,” he added.
The ARMS unit, lowered at depths of 10 to 15 meters within a protected marine area in Barangay Alegria in Cordova yesterday, is designed to help researchers monitor coral reef biodiversity and how it varies with focus on the cryptobiont communities or those understudied species including invertebrates, algae and microbes.
Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) Director Theresa Lim said that the ARMS is a device made up mostly of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material secured to coral reefs with metal weights that can mimic coral reefs and, over time, attract or collect small reef animals referred to as cryptic reef biodiversity.
“A group of ARMS installed in a specific area could provide a systematic and consistent method of monitoring marine life forms. They also provide data on how climate change impacts such as ocean warming and acidification affects them, or how marine ecosystems develop and maintain their resilience to these impacts,” Lim explained.
Montejo, Lim and Protected Area, Wildlife and Coastal Zone Management Services Regional Technical Director Dr. Al Orolfo led yesterday’s deployment assisted by four frogmen from the Philippine Coast Guard.
Montejo added that ARMS provides a tool for systematic and consistent observation of spatial patterns and temporal changes of coral reef invertebrate diversity.
BMB director Lim clarified that the ARMS will be initially used for educational purposes. The unit will be left underwater and retrieved a year later. All organisms found on or within the unit will then be extracted and analyzed by biologists.
“These will be presented to the community to give them an idea about the marine life in their vicinity which will, hopefully, encourage them to help in the conservation and protection of our marine ecosystems,” she added.
“After retrieval, the ARMS will be redeployed for further studies. The BMB is also planning to increase the number of ARMS units in specific sites to provide additional data for research purposes, “ Montejo added.
The ARMS equipment, which was first used in Hawaii and in Puerto Rico paved the way for the discovery and detection of some cryptic alien species, is one of the components of the Sustainable Coral Reef Ecosystem Management Program (SCREMP).
In order to minimize the adverse impacts to the coral reef habitat, the ARMS equipment is carefully lowered to the bottom using a buoyed dropline.
A free-driver initially surveyed the desired area to look for an appropriate sandy or rubble location into which the equipment can be lowered from the support boat. Once the diver finds a suitable location, hand signals or voice commands are used to direct the support vessel over the appropriate location to lower the equipment. To install an ARMS unit, a stainless steel stake is driven through each corner hole of the base plate. If possible, stakes should be installed perpendicular to the substrate to facilitate ARMS removal at a later date by simply lifting it vertically off the stakes.
The Philippines is known as the “world’s center of marine shore fish biodiversity” as it is home to about 468 species of scleractinian corals, more than 50 soft corals, at least 1,755 reef-associated fishes, 648 mollusks, and 27 marine mammals.
More than 800 ARMS have been deployed to date by NOAA divers throughout the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans.
The DENR-7 also conducted mangrove planting and coastal cleanup activities to celebrate the culmination of the Month of the Ocean. “This year’s theme, “Mangroves protect. Protect mangroves”, is indeed very important to put emphasis in light of the extent and magnitude of the destruction wreaked by Yolanda, which is considered to be the strongest tropical typhoon ever recorded,” Montejo said. “Supertyphoon Yolanda has taught us the lesson that storm surges could happen given the strong winds spawned by monster typhoons and its devastating effects to communities along the coastlines,” he said.
Montejo added it is high time to strongly consider reforesting the degraded coastal forests and help in the mangrove reforestation through massive community involvement to make our coastlines less vulnerable to extreme weather events which are now the “new normal”.
Joining the DENR-7 as it observes the closing of the Month of the Ocean at Barangay Alegria’s covered court were Cordova Mayor Adelino Sitoy and some officials of the Coral Triangle Initiative, Biodiversity Management Bureau, and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR-7).