In deep trouble

By: Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos May 01,2016 - 08:18 PM

Mindfully Greenie

This columnist, in the company of friends, had the chance to snorkel in the seas in both southern and northern Cebu the past week.

It is alarming to see signs of bleaching of the coral reefs, remembering visually the image of the Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the world’s most extensive coral reef ecosystem, where 93 percent of the area is already bleached, the worst seen ever.

According to preliminary findings by leading climate and coral reef scientists, “The hot water temperature that drove the devastating bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef this year was made 175 times more likely by human-caused climate change, and could be normal in just 18 years.” http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/29/great-barrier-reef-bleaching-made-175-times-likelier-by-human-caused-climate-change-say-scientists

What causes coral bleaching? It “occurs when corals are stressed by unusually high water temperatures, or from other causes.

When this happens, symbiotic algae, called zooxanthellae, leave the corals’ bodies. This changes their color to white and can also in effect starve them of nutrients. If bleaching continues for too long, corals die.”


“(C)coral reefs are in decline due to an increasing array of threats—primarily from global climate change, unsustainable fishing impacts and land-based pollution. According to the Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2008, 19 percent of the world’s reefs are effectively lost, 15 percent are seriously threatened with loss in the next 10-20 years, and 20 percent are under threat of loss in the next 20-40 years. [d] The decline and loss of coral reefs have significant social, cultural, economic, and ecological impacts on people and communities in the US and around the world. However, with effective leadership and management, healthy, resilient reef ecosystems can continue to provide these valuable services to current and future generations.” http://coralreef.noaa.gov/aboutcorals/values/

In the Philippines, many coral reefs are in deep trouble, with only 1% considered as ‘very healthy’, 9% as ‘healthy’, 50% as ‘fair’ and 40% as ‘poor/very poor’ (Wilkinson, 2008 cited by Arceo, H. in “Coral Reef Monitoring in the Philippines”, http://iocwestpac.org/OA1/19%20Philippines_Hazel%20Arceo.pdf).

It is indeed a shame that we have not been good stewards. As the center of marine biodiversity in the world, we are not taking good care of our coral reefs, as well as the seagrass and the mangroves.

We underestimate the ecosystem services and goods provided by them. A healthy coral reef is valuable for services from fisheries, shoreline protection, tourism, recreation and aesthetic value. But, we take them for granted, as if they are a privilege and a right bestowed upon us, as humans.

Do you know that the total potential sustainable annual economic net benefits per km² of healthy coral reef in Southeast Asia is estimated to range from $23,100 to $270,000 (Burke, Selig and Spalding, 2002, cited in Economic Values of Coral Reefs, Mangroves, and Seagrasses, A Global Compilation, 2008,

As we are the poster country for the devastating impacts of climate change, we should already take the much-needed action to make our ecological systems more resilient. One of the many ways to do that is to seriously implement the Fisheries Code provision that requires coastal local government units to set aside 15% of their municipal waters into a fish sanctuary or a marine protected area (MPA)or networks of MPAs. “Ideally, networks are designed to maximize ecological connectivity between marine protected areas, serving to increase protection for marine resources.”

The benefits of having a marine protected area and MPA network are as follows: (i) Protected areas reduce other ocean stressor; (ii) MPAs can also serve as an important carbon sink. Over half (55%) of the biological carbon stored globally is stored by living marine organisms. MPAs that protect habitats such as salt marshes, mangroves, and algal and seagrass beds, all of which store carbon, help mitigate climate change impacts; (iii) Networks provide corridors for shifting species and habitats; (iv) Networks help reduce risk and promote resiliency; (v) MPAs serve as sentinel sites to monitor changes, and lastly, nut not the least (vi), MPAs educate the public and local communities. http://marineprotectedareas.noaa.gov/pdf/helpful-resources/mpas_climate_change_march_2013.pdf

We can no longer afford to pretend that climate change has not reached our shores. Amid the severe pressures we place on our oceans, the drought, water crisis and the stifling heat that we only have ourselves to blame, can we still deliver a lifestyle which is “sustainable” or in Cebuano “malungtarun,” to the children and future generations? We owe it to them to make it so.

May is commemorated as the Month of the Ocean. Let’s do something significant, push for more marine protected areas in our communities, report illegal fishing and stop the relentless abuse of nature.

And, as the indefatigable steward of our oceans Anna Oposa declares, “every month IS and should be a Month of the Ocean.” Agree?

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