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The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
December, 1998 Vol. 1 No. 12

Coastal Alert





Samar's pearl oysters threatened
Expert says govt programs fail to reverse decline of fisheries
Coral bleaching reported in Palawan
Global climate changes affect ecosystems
Samar starts biodiversity project
E-post: Reader's suggestions on caring for our coast

Samar's pearl oysters threatened

Pollution, dynamite fishing, and overcollection threaten the highly priced -- some say priceless -- pearl oysters of Guian, a coastal town in Eastern Samar where, offshore, three of the world's most expensive pearls are harvested.

The coast off Guian is home to the concha blanca oyster (Pinctada maxima), also known in Australia as the South Sea Pearl. A strand of 35-40 pearls ranging from 10 mm to 20 mm in diameter is priced at $190,000.

The area is also home to the concha negra oyster (Pinctada margaritifera) known as the black-lipped oyster, which produces a large "black" pearl commonly found in French Polynesia. A two-strand necklace of this type of pearl is worth $200,000.
These two oyster species are four times the size of the Japanese akoya oyster, the source of most of the pearls traded worldwide. A high-quality akoya necklace is worth $3,290.

Guian is home as well to the edible brown-lipped oyster (Pteria penguin), which is also used for pearl production.
In 1997, the total live oysters collected in the area was 800 pieces, less than one-third the annual average of 2,700 pieces recorded in the 1970s to the mid-1980s.

"The high demand for pearl oysters could lead to unconfined harvesting that may wipe out the natural stocks," said Pedro Atega, a science research specialist at the Coastal Zone and Freshwater Ecosystems Research Division of the Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Oysters must be four years old or older to reproduce. Only 1-10 eggs out of one million reach the adult stage. Atega noted that pollution from municipal wastes "has become a threat to the sensitive oyster," and dynamite fishing is destroying its natural habitat. There is a need to set up an oyster sanctuary or hunting reserve in Guian, he added. This should serve as natural "banks" for the production of oyster larvae.

"Since oyster gathering is only a sideline for local fisherfolk, priority should be given to oyster culture," said Atega. There is a need to study the biology of the oyster and determine what levels of extraction are sustainable, he added.

Local trade in oysters started in 1977. Buyers would usually buy oysters from pearl divers twice a month during the peak season from February to September. Oyster sizes range from 8.89 cm to 20.32 cm. Until the mid-1980s, live oyster prices per kilo (about 3-4 pieces) in the local market were in the P100-P140 range. These soared to P200-P250 a kilo in the mid-1990s, reflecting the growing demand for, as well as the dwindling supply of, live oysters, said Atega. The Philippine Star, 12.20.98

Expert says govt programs fail to reverse decline of fisheries
Despite about $370 million in loans, grants and technical assistance from financial institutions, and billions of pesos in counterpart and research and development funds from the government, the country's fishery resources continue to be degraded, and fisherfolk are as poor as ever.

"Most of the country's mangroves, seagrass, algal beds and coral reefs are gone. Estuaries, the most valuable ecosystem in terms of derivable goods and services (estimated at $23,000 per hectare per year) are largely polluted," said Flor Lacanilao, a professor at the Marine Science Institute of the University of the Philippines.
Since 1991, municipal fish catch has been declining, and government programs and contracted projects have not been able to reverse the resource degradation and reduce fisherfolk poverty. Illegal practices such as overfishing and habitat destruction have contributed to such degradation.

Lacanilao said illegal fishing starts with the entry of commercial fishers in municipal waters, resulting in unfair competition for municipal fishers. In the Bohol Sea, he noted, commercial fish catch increased from 14,400 tons to 69,800 tons from 1987 to 1997. Municipal catch, on the other hand, decreased from 34,700 tons to 13,100 tons. In the Guimaras Strait, commercial fish catch increased from 7,400 tons to 25,600 tons from 1987 to 1995, while the share of municipal catch to total catch went down from 71.2% to 17.2%. In the Moro Gulf, the same story has unfolded. Commercial catch rose from 60,500 tons to 85,400 tons during the period in review, while municipal catch plummeted from 141,400 tons to 67,100 tons. In the Sulu Sea, commercial fish catch soared from 75,500 tons to 199,500 tons, and municipal fish catch went south from 141,400 tons to 67,100 tons.

Lacanilao pointed out that based on the value of fish catch in 1995, the gross share of commercial fishers was 11 times that of municipal fishers, or about P420,000 for every commercial fisher against P38,000 for the municipal fisher. Commercial and municipal fishers have long competed for their main target fishes such as anchovies, tunas, sardines and mackerels, which accounted for 60% of commercial catch and 30% of municipal catch in 1995.

These statistics underscore the growing competition between commercial and municipal fishers, and magnify the unfair advantage commercial fishers have over the low-financed, ill-equipped small fishers. Such competition has already resulted in overfishing and the use of destructive gears that destroy fish habitats.

Lacanilao said a possible solution to this problem is community-based law enforcement which requires coastal fisherfolk to organize themselves into fishing associations that will be granted exclusive legal rights to manage the fishing grounds in their locality. E.Generoso, MNC in The Philippine Star, 12.20.98

Coral bleaching confirmed in Palawan
Higher-than-normal water temperatures brought on by the recent occurrence of the El Niño phenomenon are believed to be the direct cause of a coral bleaching event observed all over southern Philippines earlier this year. Researchers from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) and the Cebu-based US Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Coastal Resource Management Project (CRMP) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) confirmed such warm water coral bleaching in four reef sites in Port Barton, Palawan.

The researchers conducted the survey last September at Manta Ray Reef, Paraiso Reef, and two sites at Albaguen Island. They reported "excessive bleaching," which was "recorded at all sites to a high degree." The highest incidence of coral bleaching (25%) was recorded near a proposed marine sanctuary at Albaguen Island, which also had the second highest cover of dead hard coral.

Coral bleaching is often a sympton of pollution-induced stress but may also be a response to natural factors such as changes in water temperature, salinity levels and possibly ultraviolet light. The El Niño of 1982-83 was said to have resulted in the bleaching of large areas of coral reef around te world. Bleaching events have been linked to the occurrence of temporary "hot spots," local areas of unusually high temperatures caused by changes in atmospheric circulation during an El Niño. with reports from R. Jordan, US PCV

Global climate changes affect ecosystems
Unprecedented and rapid climate changes are expected in the coming decades. These will produce fast and extensive alteratios in the distribution of woody vegetation through rapid mortality. The resulting "ecotone" shifts, meaning boundary shifts between two ecosystems, are likely to occur globally because semi-arid forests and woodlands are widespread and sensitive to change, a new study reveals.

The study was conducted by environmental scientists at the US Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory and the US Geological Survey's Mid-continent Ecological Science Center (USGA). It shows the fastest climate-induced boundary shift ever documented, where the transition zone between two ecosystems -- one dominated by ponderosa pine forest and the other dominated by pinon-juniper woodland -- moved by two kilometers in less than five years. This motion came as a result of a drought caused by global climate change, the scientists reported in the proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences.

"This research shows how rapidly vegetation can respond to climate," said Dave Breshears of the Environmental Science Group in Los Alamos. "It has significant implications for modelling how climate can decimate vegetation in droughts like the one we studied, and for assessing the impact of global climate change, a major scientific and social issue."

Breshears and another researcher, Craig Allen, studied the ecotone shift between the ponderosa and pinon-juniper ecosystems by poring over detailed aerial photographs taken from the 1930s through the 1970s. They also conducted a variety of field surveys and reviewed historical information to verify their findings.
"Previous studies have documented shifts that take place over decades or even centuries, and they focus on birth and growth of vegetation," Allen said. "Our research shows that more attention should be paid to mortality because the rapidity of the shift resulted from the death of ponderosas as a result of the drought in the 1950s."

The ecotone not only moved rapidly over a relatively large distance, the researchers said. The shift has persisted to the present, indicating that the drought may have pushed the vegetation pattern over a threshold from which it may be unlikely to recover.
Ecotones are important areas for study because the response of vegetation to variations in climate is expected to be the most extreme on the boundaries. Manila Bulletin, 12.20.98

Samar starts biodiversity project
Environmentalists are racing against the clock to protect the fragile biodiversity in the 3,600-sq km Samar Island Forest Reserve (SIFR), said to be one of the world's richest frontier of flora and fauna. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is spearheading a seven- to ten-year massive conservation program, with funding support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Other key players are local government units (LGUs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), people's organizations (Pos), and concerned government agencies and private groups.

As an initial step, the people behind the project launched the Samar Island Biodiversity Project (SIBP), a 10-month preparatory effort that aims to develop a full Global Environmental Facility (GEL) project for the conservation and sustainable use of the biodiversity and other resources within the SIFR. The project supports biodiversity conservation and sustainable alternative livelihood within the buffer zones of these protected areas. It also incorporates biodiversity conservation into provincial and local development plans.

The third largest Philippine island after Luzon and Mindanao, Samar is home to the rare Philippine Eagle. L. Rebamontan in Manila Bulletin, 12.20.98

President promises cleaner Metro Manila in six months
The Estrada administration is giving itself six months to overhaul Metro Manila's garbage collection and disposal system as part of its program to promote a cleaner environment. "Give us six months to overhaul the system," President Estrada said in the Christmas edition of his weekly program JEEP ni Erap: Ang Pasada ng Pangulo aired over dzMM and the Bureau of Broadcast Services-Radyo ng Bayan.

The President said he would personally supervise the cleanup of the Pasig River, expressing confidence that this drive would produce notable results in a year's time. As part of the cleanup campaign, his administration will also push through with its relocation program for squatter-families living along the Pasig River, which he expects to complete in two years. "We'll relocate the squatters along the river and we will turn the area into a park. We'll also put up riverside terminals for ferry boats," the Chief Executive said. "In two years we will complete this project. The river will be cleaned, you will have promenades, there will be ferryboats to service the people."
The President stressed that the public must also help. "I wish our people would be responsible enough to dispose of their garbage properly so our garbage collectors won't be burdened too much," he said. Philippine Daily Inquirer, 12.21.98

E-post: Reader's suggestions on caring for our coast


Good day!

I am a scuba instructor in the City of Davao. I am saddened by the condition of our ocean, especially in the coastal areas, beaches and piers, and the attitude of people about it. Sometimes, we are not serious about enforcing environmental laws, and when we do enforce these laws, it's often only for show. I believe that things will be different if people in high positions believe in and take a more serious effort at upholding the law. My suggestions:

  1. Boy Scouts should be assigned in the pier area to monitor dumping of garbage in the water.
  2. There must be a law reprimanding or fining people who throw trash into the sea.
  3. The Coast Guard should enforce the law and arrest people who litter the oceans. They and other government personnel should lead the drive against violators.
  4. Somebody should be assigned to instruct boats that sail from the pier not to dispose of their wastes into the sea. Violators must be punished.
  5. Littering at the pier must be strictly prohibited, and violators must face fines and arrest.
  6. Environmental lessons must be included in school, from grade to college level.
  7. There should be a coastal cleanup every now and then, to be headed by the fisherfolk themselves.



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