Philippines oceans in trouble: Overfishing, pollution, climate change ail our seas

Jonathan L. Mayuga Business Mirror 19 Jun 17;

WILFREDO LICUANAN, a professor and fellow at the De La Salle University, said the world’s oceans are suffering from three global threats: climate change, solid waste and sewage pollution and overfishing.

These threats, he said, are experienced in the most remote areas and even in relatively pristine areas, like in the Philippines.

“Philippine seas are unique, especially in terms of biodiversity, but suffer from the same threats,” Licuanan said. “The combined effects of these threats are actually enhanced locally because of our high human-population densities.”

Another global trend is the destruction of mangrove forests.

Also known as the “rainforest of the sea”, mangrove forests exist in tropical countries, including the Philippines.

Illegal wildlife trade

ASIDE from the degradation of coastal and marine ecosystems, the Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines reported that large marine wildlife, despite laws to protect them, are being targeted to the brink of extinction.

Globally, deaths of large marine wildlife, such as whales, dolphins, marine turtles, sharks and rays, are attributed to pollution—mainly ingestion of plastics and other solid wastes dumped into the ocean, habitat destruction and accidental bycatch.

In the Philippines, however, deaths of large marine mammals are now also being attributed to illegal wildlife trade.

Marine turtles are being killed for their meat and shell, while their eggs are being harvested. Sharks and rays are being targeted not only for food, but for their medicinal
or pharmaceutical values.

Other practices threatening ecological balance are observed in Oslob, Cebu, with whale sharks being fed to promote whale-watching as an “ecotourism” attraction.

Advocacy organization Oceana Philippines said the country’s fishing grounds are overfished, very much like most of the world’s fishing grounds.

Destructive fishing activities aggravate the sorry-state of Philippine seas, as commercial fishing continues to harvest fish in excess of the fish’s capacity to breed and replenish the ocean with fish stock.

Degraded mangroves

MANGROVES compose one of three habitat-forming species that are essential for the survival of fish and other marine species.

According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), of the world’s more than 70 mangrove species, around 46 species are known to occur in various parts of the country.

But over the last 50 years, mangrove forests in the Philippines have deteriorated significantly. The country now only has approximately 120,000 hectares of mangroves remaining.

Mangrove reforestation efforts in the past few years have increased the country’s mangrove cover from 247,000 hectares in 2003 to 311,000 hectares in 2012.

Despite such effort, the country remains unprotected from climate change’s worst impacts as demonstrated by the storm surge triggered by Supertyphoon Yolanda (international code name Haiyan) in November 2013, which devastated coastal areas in Central Philippines.

In response, the DENR launched a P1-billion project, dubbed “Mangrove and Beach Forest Development Project” in 2015, on top of its annual allocation for mangrove reforestation efforts under the National Greening Program (NGP) implemented between 2010 and 2016.

Climate-change effect

ASIDE from the environmental degradation and unsustainable fishing practices, sea level rise and ocean temperature increase are starting to take its toll on coral reefs in the Philippines.

In Honda Bay, Palawan, scientists have recently discovered that 90 percent of the corals in the area have suffered extensive damage because of coral bleaching.

Coral bleaching have been reported to occur in other areas, as well. The government has yet to come up with its own assessment of the areas affected by coral bleaching.

Scientists explain that coral bleaching occurs when corals experienced stressed caused by change in temperatures. When water temperature becomes warmer, corals expel algae living in their tissues, causing the coral to turn white.

Another cause of death of corals is the extinction of reef fishes depriving the process of symbiosis to take place. Reef fishes feed on algae that cover corals, allowing it to “breathe” and survive.

Without reef fishes, the health of corals suffer eventually leading to their demise.

Globally, climate change is causing massive bleaching of corals. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) warned that if current trends continue and the world fails to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, nearly all of the world’s coral reefs will suffer severe bleaching every year. Coral bleaching was described by the UNEP as the gravest threat to one of the Earth’s most important ecosystems.

The UN body’s report on coral bleaching was culled from a study that reviewed new climate-change projections to predict which corals will be affected first and at what rate. It says that “on average, the reefs will start to undergo annual bleaching starting in 2043”.

“Without the required minimum of five years to regenerate, the annual occurrences will have a deadly effect on the corals and disrupt the ecosystems which they support,” it added.

Declining fish production

THE Philippines is one of the top fish producers in the world. However, annual fish production continues to experience slight but steady decline in the past few years.

On account of “unfavorable weather”, fishery production last year went down by 6.34 percent, from 4.69 million metric ton (MMT) in 2015 to just 4.35 MMT in 2016.

El Niño, which caused warmer ocean temperature, was seen as the reason behind the drop in fish production. It is also seen as the reason behind the high mortality rate of fish in the aquaculture sector.

The “Fisheries Situation 2016” released by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) indicate that all fisheries subsectors posted production decline. Commercial fishing dropped by 6.35 percent, municipal fisheries slid by 6.47 percent and aquaculture dropped by 6.27 percent, thereport said.

Commercial fisheries recordeda total volume output of 1.05 MMT, compared to the 1.084 MMT posted in 2015. Commercial fisheries accounted for 23.33 percent of the sector’s total production. Municipal fisheries production recorded an output of 1.4 MMT in 2016, down from 1.22 MMT in 2015. The subsector accounts for 26.13 percent of total output.

Fish caught in inland municipal fishing grounds declined by 21.37 percent, from 204,733 MT recorded in 2015 to 160,989 MT in 2016. Meanwhile, the fish caught in aquaculture farms, which accounted for more than half of the country’s total production last year, dropped by 6.27 percent to 2.2 MMT, from 2.35 MMT in 2015.

Overfishing woes

OVERFISHING is seen as a serious threat to sustainable fishery production.

Oceana Philippines Vice President Gloria Estenzo-Ramos said the country’s ocean badly needs resuscitation and healing from humanity’s over exploitation of its marine resources.

According to Ramos, two-thirds of the country’s fishing grounds are already overfished.

She added that the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) needs to come up with more accurate data so that scientists can come up with an accurate assessment, as well as possible solutions to overfishing and other threats to the country’s coastal and marine areas.

From time to time, the BFAR has been declaring “fishing ban” in certain areas to allow fish stocks to recover.

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