Sunday, October 10, 2010

Visayas losing marine wealth

Visayas losing marine wealth
US scientist says overfishing, dynamite use spoiling the sea
By Candeze R. Mongaya
Cebu Daily News
October 10, 2010

There's no room for “later” about protecting Cebu’s rich marine life, an international scientist said.

Dr. Kent Carpenter, professor of biological sciences of the Old Dominion University in the United States and one of the pioneers in marine studies in the Philippines, yesterday encouraged participants of the Go Green Cebu Fair to protect the marine ecology from abuse.

“Because of overfishing, the Visayas can no longer say that it has the highest concentration of marine biodiversity in the country,” he said.

He cited as main causes of destruction the practices of cyanide and dynamite fishing, and muro-ami, which uses underwater weights to pound the seabed and corals to frighten fish into waiting nets.

Carpenter, who has been studying and diving in the Philippines since the 1970s, is known among environment circles for his declaration that the Philippines, particularly central Philippines or the Visayas, is “The center of the center of marine shorefish diversity” in the world, the title of his 2006 study of Philippine shores with partner Dr. Victor Springer.

“This used to be the cradle of species,” said Carpenter, who has explored diving spots all over the country.

He recalled that back in the the '70s, divers could still find many species of fish in Mactan, including whale sharks.

He explained that the Philippines is the heart of the “Coral Triangle,” a sea border connecting the Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

The Coral Triangle has 600 species of corals, 1,200 species of finfishes; 700 species of algae; 33 species of mangroves; five out of seven known species of sea turtles; and at least 24 species of crustaceans.

The 2006 study of Carpenter and Springer noted that Philippine marine biodiversity "is in trouble" from various threats to the environment. Carpenter's scientific research was endorsed by then president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when she issued an executive order in 2006 to strengthen environment protection measures.

In his study, Carpenter noted that “special attention to marine conservation efforts in the Philippines is justified because of its identification as an epicenter of biodiversity.”

Carpenter, speaking at a two-day environment forum at the Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort and Spa, said the Philippines has become a leader in the destruction of coral reefs.

“This is a greedy method of stealing the future,” he said yesterday.

Carpenter also mentioned the recent controversy over a Mactan hotel's discharge of untreated wastewater into the sea, a discovery made last April by local divers who photographed what looked like a leaking sewage pipe and posted it in Facebook in late September when no government action was taken.

This prompted a cease-and-desist order to be issued by the Lapu-Lapu City government against the sewage treatment plant of the Imperial Palace Waterpark Resort and Spa.

Carpenter said the discharge could have adverse effects on the coral reefs, as the untreated wastewater could foster rapid growth of algae in the sea.

“It (the algae) will smother the corals,” Carpenter said.

Once the algae starts to spread at a faster rate than the corals, it will upset the ecological balance and cause corals and fish to slowly disappear, he said.

“There’s no reason why this should be allowed,” he said, adding that it is difficult to control the spread of algae.

Management of the Imperial Palace announced last Monday that it sealed the alleged leaking pipe over the weekend, and removed all eight of its underwater discharge pipes. They said power fluctuations caused its sewage treatment plant to malfunction, an “isolated problem” it said has been corrected with the installation of a new motor.

Results of recent water quality tests by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environment Management Bureau are due to be released this week, with results to be sent to the Pollution Adjudication Board (PAB) in Manila.

Mactan's tourism industry is largely based on the presence of seaside resorts for recreational swimming, diving, snorkeling, boating and other water activities.

Carpenter yesterday encouraged local residents to be vigilant to address problems and take efforts to revive the damaged marine environment.

“When people start to care, biodiversity will come back,” he said.

He called on the business sector to focus their corporate responsibility and take the lead in this. He also acknowledged the effort of many environmental advocates who press the cause of protection and preservation of the marine environment.

“Their efforts are good, but they need to be more widespread in their advocacy,” Kent said.

He noted that the degradation of marine life is difficult to solve when practices are deeply set in the culture.

Most fisherfolk resort to illegal fishing for survival, something done for many years, he said.

“I’m just a scientist who studies things. Unfortunately, I have to leave the advocacy to more able people like Tony (Oposa),” he said, referring to the Cebuano environmental lawyer and Ramon Magsaysay awardee.

Carpenter said local people need to have the willpower to face these issues to bring it to the attention of the authorities.

Early this week, he said, while diving off Mactan, he saw a fisherman engaged in dynamite fishing.

“I was shocked,” he said about his closest firsthand experience of blast fishing.

They should be made to understand that what they’re doing is wrong and then be given alternatives, he said.

Carpenter, who is also affiliated with the International Union of Conservation of Nature, said he is working on a scientific paper on the assessment of the factors of extinction of herbivore fishes like parrot fishes and surgeon fishes in Philippine shores.