The Philippines is the Global Center of Marine Biodiversity [and Conservation Adversity]

After learning that the Philippines is the global epicenter of marine biodiversity in the planet in a symposium, I had a sudden feeling of excitement, of pride for this country. The symposium entitled “Scientific Discovery and the Urgent Need for Conservation at the Philippine Epicenter of Marine Biodiversity” was a real eye opener and put Philippines back on the map as a place of interest on marine biosystems research.

But what makes for a regal distinction is a lamentable fact that we are in an almost-losing side of the battle towards conserving what seems to be the last bastion or fountain source for global marine life where all other communities of sea species originate or depend on for continued existence.

What does that mean exactly for us, for ordinary Filipino and policy makers, for all those who directly and indirectly manage and exploit our marine resources? Let’s go hands on and take a closer look.

Hypothesis on why the Philippines has a uniquely rich marine resources

The talk is lead by the renowned Dr. Kent Carpenter of the University of Hawaii. Dr. Carpenter’s bulk of work centers on marine evolution, systematics as well as the science of marine conservation.

Dr. Carpenter is one of the many scientists at the helm of a couple of research on the unique marine species found in the Philippines and how these species interact in and around the waters of the country including their migration habit. His fellow scientists made research on both the species that normally find their way on our table and those that aren’t. A total of six years of meticulous research since 2004 lead to the conclusion that the Philippines was indeed the global epicenter for marine biodiversity.

The Coral Triangle, the geographical area which consist the marine waters of Asian countries namely Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Solomon Islands, and the Philippines, is the center of interest among marine biologists and researchers. The comparative studies done in this area reveals a startling discovery as to the uniqueness and richness of marine species found in the Philippine coastal regions.

Other interesting aspects are the giant clams found in coral reefs along with the species of fishes that grow and travel to other parts of the coral triangle defining what seems to be the marine “signature” of the region, serving as markers to the behavior of fishes traveling in and out of Philippine waters.

The Philippines as the center of “evolution” among marine species in the Coral Triangle

Dr. Carpenter hypothesized as to what may have caused this overwhelmingly diverse marine resources of the Philippines, his list includes genetics, area of refuge (availability of habitat), and origin (where marine species evolve). The latter hypothesis point to the fact that the Philippine marine waters serve as a breeding ground for many marine species before setting themselves to other places in the Coral Triangle region. Another interesting fact is the maintenance of unique marine species in certain areas of Philippine waters due to water currents, or gyres, which prevent fishes and reef-building corals from traveling to other places.

Dr. Carpenter also noted that the Philippines has a significant coastline length with more marine species per unit area than any other place on earth capable of supporting an ideal environment for a vast marine refuge.

There should be a huge political interest with this discovery because the destruction or even a slight disturbance to equilibrium in the Philippine marine life would have a huge impact on fishes and other forms of life in the nearby oceans and seas. Being the place where marine species potentially evolve, what happens when the threat to vulnerable aquatic species continues?

Multilevel approach to remedy marine life destruction

The destruction of local marine biosystems is largely brought about by the deleterious fishing activities and the way we harness the resources around us such the ones we find upland. To rule that sea life is insusceptible and totally disconnected to poor land use is an outright disregard to the interconnectedness of the earth’s levy of flora and fauna.

With many local fishermen involved in illegal fishing activities and conniving with unconscientious poachers, you may find it easy to come down on them. But this harsh reality is an opportunity for us and the government to device plans of action to reverse this growing rape to our seas, protect, and bring it back to life.

People in the coastal communities are the ones with direct access to the vast resources of seas. Today more than ever, they they’re the ones who need information on the adverse effects of disturbing the balance of our seas through inappropriate fishing or over-consumption of its limited resources. Policing could be a reflex approach to it but policy makers would have to look at and consider a multilevel approach to supporting local communities by means of education, financial support, health care for them and their families, making funding available to provide the newest fishing methods, technology and resources to sustainably manage our ocean reserve. By doing this we empower them to protect the sea around them and make every effort to keep it from those who want to exploit it for personal gain. With that, they themselves will become the local police to that region.

Poverty and Greed

Over-exploitation is motivated both by poverty and greed where the former affects coastal community settlers and the latter personified by unscrupulous businessmen. We can’t protect anyone or anything if we our weak. Communities living the coastal region are weak because they are poor and the instinct to survival is the consumption of any resources available at your disposal which is in this case the sea.

We have the responsibility to protect the weak. The real test to nationhood is cooperation, moral co-existence, social justice. It can’t be any clearer than that.

How wonderful to think the Philippines is home to vast aquatic species which chose it to be their breeding grounds before they set their fins to distant seas. But its quite frustrating at the same time to realize that little effort is done to protect it. Its not yet too late to do the first step to protecting our seas and thwart the adversity that endangers their existence. Pledge to support Save Philippine Seas today and be part of the effort in safeguarding and conserving our diverse marine life.