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    Understanding the Philippine Coastal Environment
   An Endangered Coastal Environment




Coastal Habitats
Marine Biodiversity

Coastal Habitats

The Philippine coastal zone is typical of tropical coasts, with five major resource units occurring along its shallow coastlines: coral reefs, mangrove ecosystems, beach systems, estuaries and lagoons, and seagrass beds. It is important to note, however, that ‘coastal resource management’ cannot be limited to the coastal zone, because there are tight linkages between upland and coastal ecosystems and what occurs in one ecosystem inevitably affects the other ecosystems. In fact, as Christopher Dahl of the Pacific Island Network of the University of Hawaii points out, when the whole of the island is "coastal", "the very term ‘coastal zone’ loses its meaning."

Coral Reefs. The Philippines lies in the Indo-West Pacific Region, reputedly the world’s highest biodiversity marine area, and is part of what is known as the "coral triangle," the center of the most diverse habitat in the marine tropics. Reports say the country’s coral reefs host about 400 species of corals, 971 species of benthic algae, and a third of the 2,300 fish species known to inhabit Philippine waters. There are 27,000 sq km of coral reef areas in the Philippines, with 60% of them occurring in Palawan.

But Philippine coral reefs are under severe pressure from various human activities, not only from dynamite, cyanide, and other illegal fishing, but also from legitimate activities such as tourism. The degradation is both fast and widespread. A study conducted by the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) between 1976 and 1981 describes the condition of 32% of coral reefs in the Philippines as "poor," 39% as "fair," 24% as "good," and less then 6% "excellent."

Mangroves. In 1920, the Philippine mangrove forest area was estimated to be around 450,000 hectares. Largely as a result of conversion to fishponds and saltbeds, the clear-cutting of trees for firewood and other domestic uses, and reclamation for industrial or other development purposes, this area has shrunk to less than 150,000 hectares, of which 22% are in Palawan, 32% in Mindanao, and 23% in Eastern Visayas and Bohol. From 1980 to 1991, mangrove areas were depleted at a rate of about 3,700 hectares per year, mostly due to conversion to fishponds. Today, old-growth mangrove areas are said to be no more than 20,000 hectares, about two-thirds of which are in Palawan and the remainder in Zamboanga del Sur. Even so, mangroves, principally members of the genera Bruguiera, Ceriops, and Rhizophora (Rhizophoraceae) and the families Avicenniaceae and Sonneratiaceae, continue to be an important resource base for the Philippines, providing a range of fishery products such as crustaceans and mollusks, an as yet untapped source of medicinal products, and other less measurable benefits such as shore protection and nutrient cycling.

Beach systems. Most small Philippine islands have coral sand beaches, i.e., beaches formed by coral reef growth and erosion. Forming an integral part of the reef communities, these beaches depend on healthy coral reefs for continued supplies of sand, at the same time supporting crustaceans, mollusks and some worms. Undisturbed beaches also serve as nesting places for sea turtles. Unregulated and unplanned development of beaches for tourism and the quarrying of sand for construction and other purposes are two of the most common threats to beaches in the Philippines.

Brackish wetlands. This ecosystem is usually found behind the mangrove formation and is characterized by the predominance of Nipa fruticans (nipa palm). In some places in the Philippines, it is regarded as part of the mangrove ecosystem. Pollution and conversion to other uses (such as reclamation for housing, fishpond development and dumping of garbage) have resulted in decreasing fishery productivity and loss of wildlife and aesthetic value.

Seagrasses. According to seagrass expert Miguel D. Fortes, (Seagrasses: A Resource Unknown in the ASEAN Region), the Philippines has 16 known species of seagrasses, the highest number in the Indo-Pacific region. These species are valued mainly for their role as fish nursery areas and as foraging grounds for food fish, dugong, turtles and wading birds. The depletion of seagrass beds is known to result in high water turbidity and lower production of seagrasses and their associated fauna. Like the other coastal ecosystems, seagrass ecosystems in the Philippines are under threat from various natural and man-made forces -- typhoons, tidal waves, and volcanic activity as well as mining, aquaculture, deforestation and blast fishing.

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This website was made possible through support provided by the USAID under the terms of Contract No. AID 492-0444-C-00-6028-00. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID. As long as proper reference is made to the source, articles may be quoted or reproduced in any form for non-commercial, non-profit purposes to advance the cause of marine environmental management and conservation.