According to maritime scientists at a forum by conservation group Oceana Philippines, our damaged coral reefs in Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands from China’s illegal fishing and reclamation activites is costing the country at least P33 billion a year. “The value includes all the services that we get from the coral reefs like climate regulation and the benefits we get from the ecosystem,” Deo Florence Onda from the University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) said, noting that the number is a “conservative estimate.”
The scientists arrived at the number using the “baseline value $353,429 (P18 million) per hectare per year for coral reefs” from an earlier study by Dutch information and analytics company Elsevier in 2012. However, the estimate only covers damage from reefs covered under satellites, meaning that the actual number could be far greater than that.
We also shouldn’t forget that the illegal fishing activities and mass harvesting of clams by Chinese fishermen is draining our marine resources, thus depleting our own stock of seafood and threatening our food security. Onda also pointed out that a huge chunk of our population relies on these maritime resources, too, and the destruction of our reefs directly affects their livelihood. Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno noted our government’s failure to uphold “its constitutional obligation to protect our marine resources and fisherfolk,” as in the recent case of the 22 fishermen sunk down by a Chinese fishing boat. (Read: Why is Pres. Duterte mum over the plight of fishermen attacked at Recto Bank?)
The UP MSI scientists suggested at the forum that a separate government department should be created to address this. “As the Philippines transitions to blue economy, we call on the creation of a separate Department of Fisheries and Oceans that will be mandated to study, utilize, manage and protect the largest ecosystem and future biggest contributor to the Philippine economy—our oceans and seas,” they said in a statement.
Currently, marine protection and fishing management are under separate departments. “If it’s [all] under one agency, then perhaps the coordination can be better because you are not only considering resources in terms of economics, such as fisheries, but you are also considering the ocean as an ecosystem,” Onda explained.
Featured photo courtesy of Inquirer.net