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The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
January, 1999 Vol. 2 No. 1

Coastal Alert





Researchers track Philippine sea turtles
World body considers ban on ship paint
Youth environmental corps formed
Pregnant dolphin slaughtered in Davao
Forest loss brings diseases, pests
Pag-asa, first Philippine eagle hatched in captivity, turns 7
Coral bleaching is top environment story for 1998
Call to all divers in Cebu:
Join Crown-of-Thorns Collection Dive!

Researchers track Philippine sea turtles
The Coastal Resource Management Project (CRMP), Pawikan Conservation Project of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau-Department of Environment and Natural Resources (PAWB-DENR), World Wildlife Fund-Philippines (WWF) and other groups are tracking two green turtles swimming their way to still unknown destinations. The turtles were "tagged" with satellite transmitters last October as they finished nesting on a turtle island-sanctuary on the southern edge of Sulu Sea. Researchers hope to learn more about the migratory patterns of these turtles now that they have returned to the sea after depositing some 100 eggs in sand pits on Baguan, one of nine islands comprising the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area (TIHPA) at the Philippine-Malaysian border.

Scattered like tiny specks at the Philippine-Malaysian border some 45 minutes by boat from the coast of Sandakan, Sabah, TIHPA is among the world’s few remaining traditional nesting grounds of the marine turtle and one of only 16 areas in the world where green turtles are known to lay their eggs several times each year. It is the world's first transboundary protected area, jointly administered by the Philippines and Malaysia, for the aquatic reptiles. TIHPA is also the only conservation effort of its kind in the ASEAN region.

Six of the nine islands, namely, Boaan, Langaan, Great Bakkungaan, Lihiman, Taganak and Baguan, belong to the Philippines. The other three, namely, Pulau Selingaan, Pulau Bakkungaan Kechil and Pulau Gulisaan, are Malaysian territory.

"In 1997 alone, an estimated 3,000 to 8,000 adult nesting turtles were monitored in the warm sandy shores of the Philippine-owned islands," Rhodora R. de Veyra, a biologist at the Pawikan Conservation Project, said. "That year, the green turtles visited the islands about two to five times and laid an estimated 1.7 million eggs." More than half of the eggs were laid in the uninhabited island-sanctuary of Baguan, where commercial egg collection is strictly prohibited.

Little is known about their migratory patterns. "We have not determined where the turtles go, although we have records of Philippine-tagged turtles that have been recovered in Palawan and Indonesia," said De Veyra. "Malaysian-tagged turtles, on the other hand, have been recovered in Bacolod and Palawan."

Marine turtles are threatened by the overharvesting of eggs and incidental catches by shrimp nets and longlines. Tagging is part of the Pawikan Conservation Project’s research and monitoring component which seeks to determine the marine turtles' population and distribution, important inputs to implementing an effective conservation program. The satellite tracking project can take the monitoring effort to another level by providing new data on the turtles’ migratory routes. The two turtles "deployed" last October will continue to be tracked until no signals are received from the transmitters they carry. Results of the tracking will be made available this year on CRMP’s website at – with excerpts from "Pawikan’s survival ensured" by R.C. Navarro, Environment News Network

World body considers ban on ship paint
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has called for a complete ban of a chemical used on ships’ hulls that has reportedly killed marine animals throughout the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In a meeting last November, a committee of the IMO recommended that the use of anti-fouling boat bottom paint containing tributyltin, or TBT, an organotin compound, be banned by 2008.

The IMO is the United Nations body responsible for regulating shipping activity internationally. The evidence against TBT use led most industrialized nations to ban organotin-based anti-fouling paints on all vessels under 26 meters (86 feet) long in the mid-1980s. Some nations, such as Japan, have already adopted a total TBT ban and are pressuring others to do the same. The current recommendation calls for a worldwide total ban.

The Marine Environment Protection Committee's recommendation will be placed before the IMO general assembly next year. The committee wants ship owners to stop using the paint by Jan. 1, 2003, and recommends a complete ban on the presence of TBT in marine paint worldwide by Jan. 1, 2008. If the resolution passes, it will have to be ratified by member nations, and this is often a lengthy process.

TBT-based anti-fouling paints are applied to ships' hulls to stop marine creatures from attaching to the hulls’ bottom. But the TBT from the paint migrates into the surrounding sea water and accumulates in sediments around harbors and along shipping lanes. It is then ingested by marine invertebrates and becomes a part of the food chain. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports that sea otters are dying off the coast of America and that dolphins, whales, sea lions, sea birds and fish are being contaminated in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The poison affecting them all is TBT.

WWF-Germany has been working with three environmental ministries, nine ships, nine paint manufacturers, seven dockyards and two research institutions to investigate biocide-free alternative technologies for anti-fouling. Results show that biocide-free paints do work, WWF says. The group expects that a range of alternatives to TBT-based paints will be well established by 2001, making the ban a realistic proposition for the IMO.

The maritime industry is suggesting that an independent international Marine Coatings Board be formed to "promote the development and approval of alternatives to toxic anti-fouling paints containing organotins." In the meantime, the committee's decision will put additional pressures on governments to place TBT in a category with other banned chemicals. -- C. Swanson in ENN Daily News, 12/24/98

Youth environmental corps formed
Philippine President Joseph Estrada issued Executive Order No. 52 creating a youth environmental corps to be known as the Green Brigade (GB). The GB is tasked to promote environmental awareness among Filipino youth, serving as the permanent committee on the environment of the Sangguniang Kabataan (Youth Council). It will be composed of at least 25 residents aged 15-21 years old in each barangay (village) with a SK member as group leader. The SK is mandated to allot 10 percent of its annual budget for the GB’s operations.

Cesar Chavez, chairman and chief executive officer of the National Youth Commission, said the GB in each locality will undertake educational projects that promote "youth partnership in the sustainable development programs in the barangay." It will also formulate and implement a local youth environmental action plan addressing the specific environmental concerns of the barangay.

GB members can be elected by their peers to serve as "Youth DENRO" (Deputized Environmental and Natural Resources Officers) in each barangay. Youth DENROs will assist the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in monitoring and reporting violations of environmental laws.

President Estrada alloted an initial fund of P500,000 for the operationalization of the National Green Brigade Committee. -- The Freeman, 01.19.99

Pregnant dolphin slaughtered in Davao
A pregnant dolphin was killed January 10 by fishers in Davao del Sur, who said they were forced to kill the animal because it was destroying fishing boats docked at a village called Bunawan. Another group of fishers cited the same reason for the killing of a whale late last year in the same vicinity.

The Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) is investigating reports that whale hunters are operating in Davao Gulf.

Romeo Baldado, a DA-BFAR official, said dolphins normally stay in shallow waters to give birth and are thus easy prey for hunters. Cebu Daily News, 01.13.99

Forest loss brings disease, pests
The incidence of goiter is rising among Benguet and other Cordillera folk in the uplands of northern Philippines. The reason, says one expert, is deforestation.

Dr. Charles Cheng of the Baguio Filipino-Chinese General Hospital says goiter, a condition caused by iodine deficiency, was not a problem in the Cordilleras four or five decades ago. Cheng surmises locally grown vegetables used to be iodine-rich, thanks to sufficient levels of this trace element in the region’s topsoil. But, because of deforestation, the region has lost much of its topsoil, which continues to be washed away to the sea when it rains.

Besides goiter, Cordillera’s farmers now worry about rat infestation, which has also been traced to the loss of forest cover. Montanosa Research and Development Center (MRDC), a non-governmental organization which is helping develop appropriate technology for the region’s upland farmers, says rats do not pose any problem "under natural circumstances" where their population is kept in check by natural predators such as snakes, hawks and owls. But as more and more grasslands and forests are converted to agriculture and other commercial ventures, the natural habitat of rat predators are destroyed, causing an imbalance in predator-prey relationships and the natural food chain.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources reports the forest cover in virtually all of the six Cordillera provinces has shrunk considerably below the critical 40 percent. M. Malanes in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 01.17.99

Pag-asa, first Philippine eagle hatched in captivity, turns 7
Pag-asa, the first Philippine Eagle hatched in captivity, turned 7 years old this month, raising hopes that, in two years, he could sire more of his kind.

Weighing 134.6 grams when hatched on January 15, 1992, Pag-asa, conceived through artificial insemination, now weighs 4.5 kg and has a wing span of 7 feet. Since his birth, only two other eagles have been hatched in captivity – Pagkakaisa on October 25, 1992, and three years later, Mindanaw, the first Philippine Eagle conceived through natural means by a pair of captive eagles. Mindanaw, however, lived for only a few hours.

Pag-asa’s guardians – the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) – reports that Pag-asa exhibited breeding behavior in 1996. PEF executive director Dennis Salvador says his "excellent progress as a potential breeder reflects the foundation’s growing capability and expertise in managing the species."

Salvador however concedes that the PEF’s success in breeding the Philippine Eagle has been "limited and sporadic." This, he explains, is "primarily because of the difficulty in working with a breeding stock composed of rehabilitated and confiscated birds." The PEF has submitted to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) plans to boost production through captive propagation. This will require "the acquisition of a limited number of young eagles or eggs from the wild and rearing them properly," Salvador explains.

In 1992, only 53 Philippine Eagles – 18 in captivity and 35 in the wild – were known to exist. Today, the known population of the endangered species is 123, with 16 in captivity and 107 in the wild.

According to the PEF, the increase in population data is not due to an increase in population size of eagles in the wild "but is reflective of improvements in field techniques in locating wild birds."

Salvador says habitat loss and destruction continue to threaten Philippine Eagle populations. "We have to act now as species recovery costs tend to escalate as the species’ population and habitat diminish." – CO Arguillas and NB Maulana, PDI Mindanao Bureau, in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. 01.17.99

Coral bleaching is top environment story for 1998
The news that a significant proportion of the world's coral died last year as a result of the highest sea temperatures on record was shocking enough to place it in a tie for first place in a survey done by the Environmental News Network (ENN).

ENN asked its readers to rank 10 stories from a list of 15 provided by its editorial staff. The top 10:

    1. Coral bleaching and
      Congress' rider attack on the environment
    2. El Niño/La Niña
    3. Year of the Ocean
    4. Climate change debate
    5. Natural Disasters
    6. Large Antarctic ice shelf disintegrates
    7. Hurricane season
    8. Chlorine, phthalates and endocrine disruptors
    9. MTBE contamination
    10. Wildfires burned worldwide

In a news item published on December 31, ENN quoted Dr. Thomas Goreau, a scientist working with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), who warned a climate conference in Buenos Aires, "The coral reefs are the canary in the mine for global warming. They will go first."

The reefs, in fact, are already going. Citing reports from IUCN scientists, ENN noted, "In areas surveyed in the Indian Ocean, between 70 percent and 90 percent of the corals are dead. Massive dies offs have also affected popular diving areas such as the Seychelles, Mauritius and the Maldives. As well, thousands of miles of corals in the western Pacific, from Vietnam to the Philippines and Indonesia, have died or bleached as they have been starved of the symbiotic algae that provide their food and energy."

Call to all divers in Cebu:
Join Crown-of-Thorns Collection Dive!
Snorkelers and certified divers are invited to participate in the Crown-of-Thorns Collection Dive in Mactan on February 27, 1999, Saturday. The dive is being organized by the fast ferry company SuperCat-Sea Angels with the support of the Coastal Resource Management Project, a technical assistance project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, in response to reports of an apparent outbreak of the dreaded Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (COTS) in the waters of Mactan, Cebu.

The COTS (Acanthaster planci) feeds on stony corals, important shelters for fish and invertebrates. It can grow to as much as 20 inches in diameter and consume as much coral as its size in a day.

Dr. Alan White, CRMP Technical Adviser, says COTS are a natural phenomenon, and that outbreaks can occur anytime. He also says there is good evidence that recent outbreaks were worsened by human influences on the marine ecosystem.

How these waves of starfish abundance occur is still largely unexplained. The most widely-accepted theory suggests that increased phytoplankton production resulting from nutrient pollution increases the survival rate of COTS larvae. Increases in COTS population are also attributed to the declining population of the COTS’s natural predators, the trumpet triton shell (locally known as tambuli) and the humphead wrasse.

"We see the triton shell in souvenir shops in Cebu, although the collection of triton shells is illegal. Overcollection of the triton may have aided in the proliferation of the Crown-of-Thorns," says CRMP Chief of Party Catherine Courtney.

COTS outbreaks were noted in the 1960’s and early 1970’s in some Pacific reefs. Conditions changed in these reefs to allow population to increase to "plague" levels. Fossil records, however, show evidence of outbreaks as early as 8000 years ago.

Sandy Kelly, Executive Vice-President of Philippine Ferries Corporation (SuperCat-SeaAngels) brought the apparent outbreak in Mactan to the attention of the CRMP. Beach resorts, dive shops, divers’ groups, the councils of three barangays and the city government of Lapulapu, including the Department of Tourism and the Philippine Tourism Authority are also assisting in the collection dive.

The event kicks off at 9:00 a.m. on February 27, 1999 at the Mar y Cielo Beach Resort. Other resorts will be designated as take-off points for divers and snorkelers. Divers and snorkelers are advised to attend equipped with standard gear and to work under the buddy system. Participants must also each carry a bamboo, wooden or metal stick measuring about 1 meter long, 1.5 inch wide, and .5 cm thick. The stick must be sharpened to a point at one end to enable stabbing the COTS without touching its venomous spines. Buddies may share a collection receptacle which may be jute or nylon sacks or native baskets.

Pre-registration is required to determine other logistical requirements. Please call the CRMP at 232-1821 up to 23 for pre-registration or popular dive shops for more information. By Jingjing Farrarons, CRMP




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