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The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
April, 1998 Vol. 1 No. 4

Coastal Alert





Coral Confiscators Cited
Coast Guard Now A Civilian Body
World Trade Body Says No To Turtle Protection Law
Red Tide Hits HK

Water -- This Precious, Limited Resource


Coral Confiscators Cited
The Coastal Resource Management Project (CRMP) commended the Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard and the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) for confiscating a stash of illegally extracted corals last February. The commendation was presented to the three agencies by CRMP Chief of Party Dr. Catherine Courtney last March 19.

Coral confiscated by the Navy on Mactan Island, February 1998.


Photos by Toni Parras

     Last February’s booty makes the third truckload of corals seized in recent months. The corals, reportedly worth about P70,000 (roughly US$1,750), were found in a deserted field near the University of the Visayas marine office training outpost on Mactan Island. Most were left out in the open to dry, some were in styrofoam boxes soaking in bleach, and others were already packed for shipping. A relatively fresh batch was found near the shore piled in a heap.

          Philippine laws prohibit the extraction of corals, but the practice continues in a number of coastal areas around Cebu, where trade in this marine resource exists. The extractors sell the corals for about P15-20 per piece to souvenir shops, especially along the "resort strip" on Mactan Island, which then turn around and sell them to tourists for US$5-10 per piece, depending on the kind and quality of the specimen. Some corals are also smuggled abroad, mostly to Europe and the United States.

          From CRMP to consumers everywhere comes this message of appeal: Coral extraction is very damaging to reef areas and reduces the already dwindling habitat of many marine creatures. Corals sold in trinket shops are almost always illegally extracted, so please refrain from buying them! Better to have a living coral in the sea where it belongs and serves a purpose than a lifeless one gathering dust on your mantelpiece! --- Toni Parras for CRMP. 04.14.98

Coast Guard Now A Civilian Body
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has been turned over from the Philippine Navy to the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC). The transfer was announced last April 1 by President Ramos, who said that the Coast Guard would be placed for two weeks this month under the Office of the President, where preparations would be made for its changeover from a military to a civilian agency. It would then be turned over to the DOTC. AFP in the Manila Bulletin, 04.02.98

Trade Restriction?
World Trade Body Says No To Turtle-Protection Law

The World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled April 6 against a federal law banning shrimp imports from countries that do not try to keep turtles out of shrimp nets, saying the law restricts free trade. Unless the ruling is overturned on appeal, the United States must either comply or face sanctions against some of its exports.

          The ruling was issued by a three-member dispute panel of an organization that the Clinton administration had assured would be environmentally friendly (the WTO was founded in 1995). Now, environmentalists fear that the ruling will set a dangerous precedent, giving the WTO free rein to rule against environmental laws that restrict free trade.

          The dispute centers on what are known as turtle-excluder devices, which look like metal barbecue grills and cost about $75. Placed in the mouth of a shrimp net, the device gives turtles a highly effective escape hatch, while keeping the shrimp trapped inside the net. It is widely used by US and Caribbean shrimpers.

          In 1989, President Bush signed a law embargoing shrimp from nations that did not agree to equip their fleets with these devices. More than a dozen countries complied, including Thailand. But in 1996, Thailand joined India, Pakistan and Malaysia -- which have not required excluder devices -- in formally protesting the US embargo, saying that they were already doing enough for turtles by protecting hatchlings and the beaches where the turtles lay eggs.

          The US government can appeal Monday’s ruling in the next 60 days, but any appellate decision against the United States would be final and would compel it to change its law, try to come to agreement with the four complaining countries, or accept penalties from them. US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky said in a statement the WTO "reached the wrong conclusion."

          The seven species of sea turtle include some of the most endangered animals in the world. Female turtles do not start breeding until there are 20-40 years old, so the drowning of adult turtles in shrimp nets can quickly deplete populations, scientists say. No protection program can succeed unless it includes the use of protective devices such as excluders, they add. Traci Watson in USA Today, 04.07.98

Red Tide Hits HK
A toxic red tide has invaded 22 of Hong Kong’s 26 fishing zones, killing more than 15,000 tons of fish worth $82 million ($10.6 million), officials said. An interdepartmental meeting was convened to discuss how to tackle the problem while health department officials called for the dead fish to be destroyed, even as the fisheries department maintained that the fish were still safe to eat. Agriculture and Fisheries Department assistant director Joseph Sham said the results of tests on the dead fish "tell us that there is no toxicity. There is no health concern." AFP in the Philippine Star, 04.14.98

Malaysia Acts On Water Crisis
Kuala Lumpur, stung by criticisms over its poor handling of water shortages, said it would spend 10 million ringgit (US$2.8 million) a month to deploy extra water tankers in affected areas. Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim announced water would also be sourced from lakes and treated for distribution to some 7,000 families in central Selengor affected by water cuts since March. Water rationing would continue until two water projects now being built in the state are completed later this year.

          Official reports said problems in Selangor began in January and worsened in February and March as a result of falling water levels in dams and the pollution of rivers by ammonia, which in turn caused the closure of water treatment plants. AFP in the Manila Bulletin, 04.01.98

Forecasting La Niña
Scientists are cautiously predicting an end to El Niño weather conditions later this year but remain uncertain about what will follow. Forecasters are divided between two possible scenarios: first, a return to normal weather patterns and second, another bout of disruption iduced by El Niño’s opposite number -- La Niña.

          The La Niña weather pattern -- also known as the "cold tongue" -- is characterized by abnormally cold ocean conditions in the eastern equatorial Pacific. "La Niña generally isn’t as strong as El Niño and tends to be more of an enhancement of the normal weather conditions," said Dr. Phil Jones of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. "It doesn’t follow that because El Niño has been strong, La Niña will be too, especially since for most of the 90s we’ve had El Niño after El Niño with no look in for La Niña."

          The European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) said the two weather patterns are driven partly by equatorial ocean temperatures in the Pacific, which in turn affect atmospheric pressures and wind patterns that shift rainfall distribution.

          The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in its March report a return to normal conditions is forecast for June-July-August, but was still undecided on the likelihood of a La Niña event developing in the latter part of this year. 1997 was on average the world’s hottest year on record, largely due to the El Niño phenomenon, the WMO said in January. Reuters in The Philippine Star, 04.02.98

Troubled Rivers
Quarrying activities in Rodriguez (formerly Montalban), Rizal, has resulted in the destruction of trees and pollution and siltation in rivers and other water sources in the area. The municipal government has already stopped granting new quarrying permits, but Rep. Tessie Aquino of Malabon-Navotas said only the complete cessation of operations will prevent any more damage to the environment. Aquino is seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the courts to stop all ongoing quarrying in the area. D.C. Cagahastian, Manila Bulletin, 04.03.98.




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