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(Privilege Speech delivered on World Environment Day 2012, Senate Session Hall)
There is sex on the reefs. Where the warm ocean currents meet the more temperate Philippine waters, a different kind of procreation is taking place—one that would save not only marine life, but our very own as well.
The Philippines is located within the Coral Triangle, home to 76 percent of the world’s coral species and over 2,000 marine species. However, tragedy is afoot. According to the UP Marine Science Institute, only five percent of the country’s coral reefs remain in good condition.
In May 2011, we were outraged by the report that poachers ravaged approximately 7,000 hectares of sea bed within the Moro Gulf and the Sulu Sea. Authorities recovered two container vans filled with thousands of pieces of black coral and hundreds of lifeless turtles and other marine species. This is only one case that illustrates the gravity of the situation.
Reefs are, foremost, complex ecosystems that are vital to the continuity of life in the sea. They protect coastlines from wave and storm erosion and function as nurseries and habitats for thousands of marine species. They are ultimately connected to mangrove forests, seagrass beds, and countless other ecosystems.
But the crux of the matter is that the destruction of our marine ecosystems will not only lead to the extinction of thousands of species but will also be detrimental to tourism, food supply, and sustenance and livelihood of our fisherfolk.
For instance, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) estimates that 80 percent of the animal protein requirement of Filipinos come from our seas. Our mangrove forests alone produce almost 108 million kilograms of fish annually. The destruction of our reefs will radically deplete our food supply.
As a tropical tourist destination, our beaches are the most popular attractions to local and foreign tourists alike. We may well experience a massive decrease in tourist volume if these areas are destroyed, threatening local industries that depend on tourism.
But beyond these everyday realities are even larger questions. Do we want to be known as the nation that stood by the wayside as its reefs were plundered and its seas were poisoned? Or do we want to be known as a responsible people and a nation worthy of its blessings?
Fortunately, hope for the latter remains. A variety of sectors have merged and embarked on efforts to save the “rainforests of our seas”.
The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has launched the “Filipinnovation on Coral Restoration”, a program that aims to restore coral reefs by utilizing scientific expertise and Filipino ingenuity. In partnership with several universities such as the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, University of San Carlos in Cebu, private resort and dive shop owners, local government units, and other stakeholders, the program has established coral laboratories to produce young corals that will be used to enhance and restore coral reefs. The program also endeavors to identify genes that could possibly help corals cope with environmental stresses brought about by climate change.
Corals produce sexually and asexually. In sexual reproduction, corals could be broadcasters where gametes, the eggs and the sperm are released into the water. When an egg is fertilized by a sperm, it will become a zygote which will undergo series of cleavages until it becomes Planula Larva in 96 hours. When Planula Larva matures, it will settle to a substrate and will become a Polyp until it becomes a young coral. This young coral, which will be initially placed in underwater nurseries to assure stability and survival, will grow to form a coral colony in the reefs.
An NGO has also been at the forefront of coral restoration. The Sangkalikasan Producers Cooperative (SPC) has been active in restoring the vibrancy of marine life particularly in Boracay. The Code Blue Boracay Reef Buds Project aims to plant at least 5,000 artificial “reefbuds” on the waters of Boracay to rehabilitate the ecosystem underneath.
The technology used in this project of the SPC was invented by a Filipino, Benjamin Tayag Jr., based on the design of Austrian environmental scientist Harald Kremnitz. “Reefbuds” are large, hollow, dome-like structures placed over damaged reef systems which facilitate their recovery. An artificial reefbud also attracts marine species and another cycle of life under water commences.
We have provided our full support to this initiative of the Sangkalikasan and we have linked them up with the DOST’s program so that the young corals produced in laboratories and nurseries will be planted in the artificial reefbuds.
Meanwhile, the DENR expressed its support in expanding the Reef Buds project and is set to craft a coral reef database to ensure that data on Philippine corals are updated.
These efforts remain unknown to many, which is why I take this opportunity to laud the DOST, DENR, the Sangkalikasan Producers Cooperative and the academe for shouldering the daunting task of resuscitating our dying marine ecosystems.
The environment is threatened by the times, by the pressures of modern society, by our very species.
But let this be a challenge to harness science and involve our citizens.
The World Environment Day is at present less of a celebration and more of a call to action.
In closing, I enjoin every Filipino to take that one vital step forward. Another year of fighting for a sustainable future starts today.