The Philippines is a tropical archipelago in Southeast Asia with direct access to some of the most diverse marine life in the world. Located on the western part of the Pacific Ocean, the islands of the Philippines have thousands of miles of coastline and plenty of beaches to explore the underwater ecological life. Because of its prime location in the warm waters of the Pacific, coral reefs are able to grow and thrive. Some famous reefs in the country include the Apo Reef in Puerto Galera, Mindoro and Verde Island Passage near Batangas. Unfortunately, the pristine waters that surround the Philippines are also under constant strain by both natural and man made threats. The coral reefs found in the Philippines are rapidly declining in size, which has affected the marine wildlife as a whole.
Coral reefs are popularly known as the rain forests of the sea for hosting thousands of diverse animals. The actual structure of the reef is formed when corals secrete calcium carbonate, which slowly turns into large systems that provide housing and protection for fish. 25% of underwater species live and flourish in these coral reefs. Thousands of different fish, crustaceans, worms, and sponges can be found within its structures. Coral reefs are mainly found in tropical areas of the world where water is warm and shallow. The coral reefs located off the coast of the Philippines are part of a larger system often known as the coral triangle. This wide triangle stretches from the Philippines to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, and the Solomon Islands. The area is home to an abundance of animals. In the Philippines alone there are over 2,000 types of fish.
In the Philippines, these unique reefs have been suffering for the past 30 years. An overwhelming 97% of the coral reefs in the country are threatened, mainly because of harmful human activities and a lack of correct treatment towards the reefs. One large reason for the negative impact on the ecosystems has been because of disruptive fishing tactics. The majority of Filipinos live very close to the ocean and have used its natural resources for centuries. Fish and seafood are a healthy and common part of the Filipino diet. Because of the proximity and easy access, over-fishing has been a huge threat to the marine wildlife. Cyanide poisoning has harmed the reefs dramatically. Over one million kilograms of cyanide poisoning has been sprayed over the coastlines of the Philippines since the 1960’s. This type of drastic fishing gives fishermen much larger live reef catches, which has become a $1 billion annual industry.
The Philippines has combated the issue of dangerous cyanide poisoning, becoming one of the only countries in Southeast Asia to do so. The government has created the Cyanide Fishing Reform Program in collaboration with the International Marinelife Alliance. The program’s main purpose is to educate local fishermen on other proper fishing techniques, instead of using cyanide poisoning to catch fish. Fishermen learn how to use wide scaled nets and different hook and line techniques, in hopes of protecting the area’s waters from poison.
The increase in population in the country has played a large role in the declining amount of healthy coral reef. Only about 5% of the reef in the country is considered to be in good condition. Much of the reason why the reefs are suffering is because of pollution made by humans. Because much of the country’s population lives near the ocean, pollution easily runs off into the water and destroys the life under the water’s surface. Coral reefs thrive in areas where the water is clean and clear, which has reduced since the increase in population.
Aside from the destructive human impact on the reefs, there has also been an unavoidable natural weather pattern that has effected the area. El Nino has destroyed 20% of the reefs in the Philippines, and has caused coral bleaching. Global warming has become a negative influence on the coral structures. With the warming temperatures in the ocean, more algae are able to grow on top of the coral, which in turn blocks the amount of direct sunlight the coral receives. And like many living organisms, survival becomes much harder without sun.
A combination of harmful human activities and natural occurrences have severely damaged some of the most remarkable forms of nature in the world. There has been widespread education campaigns in schools across the country that teach children the importance of keeping the natural reefs clean. Media efforts have been a useful way to promote the crucial information to keep the coral reefs safe from harm. Organizations have been created to combat this destruction, in hopes of preserving the beauty and uniqueness in the ocean. The Planetary Coral Reef Foundation and the Coral Reef Foundation are two such organizations where people can donate some time or money to help make sure the coral reefs in the Philippines, and around the world, don’t disappear forever.
Photo credit: noaa.gov/features/economic_0708/images/coralreef.jpg