The fish we may be eating today may be extinct 15 to 25 years from now. Do we have our fill now, or should we save these fish varieties from overexploitation?
A new study conducted by Haribon Foundation in partnership with the Newcastle University showed that 59 different species are already disappearing from catches of reef-based fishers.
Dr. Margarita N. Lavides, of Haribon said that the belief that the sea is of unlimited resource is not true. We are slowly losing once common, wide-ranging, yet inherently large vulnerable reef fishes …”
She further explains that “ Coral reefs are good sentinels of global ocean change, and like the Philippine Eagle in our forests, the five most vulnerable species to local extinction we found, especially the bumphead parrotfish, giant grouper and humphead wrasse, are telling us that there’s not much time left for action “.
For his part , Dr. Nicholas Polunin, of Newcastle University UK said “These losses we’ve recorded in the Philippines are reflective of unsustainable exploitation affecting this exceptionally species rich ecosystem and region but they also mirror what is happening in ecosystems around the globe”.
From 2012 to 2014, the Haribon Foundation, Newcastle University, UK and the Darwin Initiative 19-020 Project interviewed 2,655 fishers around coral reefs .
Coral reefs are called the rainforests of the seas. These are the most biodiverse ecosystem in the coastal and marine environments. Even if the country harbors only 9% of the total global coral reef area, the Philippines is still considered to be the global epicenter of shorefish diversity.
Five of the 59 identified locally disappeared species have the highest number of fishers reporting they have not caught them in the past half of a century.
Filipinos may not easily find anymore such varieties asbumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum), humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus), giant grouper (Epinephelus lanceolatus), the mangrove red snapper (Lutjanus argentimaculatus), and the African pompano (Alectis ciliaris).
The huge decline of these disappearing finfish species may have already had ecological impact considering the importance of these varieties in coral reefs.
For example, the bumphead parrotfish or taungan eats and scrapes algae and bacteria, helping to control algal overgrowth and thus allow healthy growth of corals.
The taungan can remove five tons of coral every year and this washes ashore and becomes the beautiful white sand we enjoy in beaches. The humphead wrasse or mameng feeds on and helps to regulate the population size of some of the poisonous animals found on the reef, an important one being the crown-of-thorns starfish, which feeds directly on living hard coral.
The giant grouper or kugtong helps sustain healthy fish and other invertebrate populations by eating sick and/or old species. It also ensures a balance among algae eaters or herbivores, carnivores and other functional groups in coral reefs.
The humphead wrasse is protected by and international and national law as an endangered specie. Despite these regulations, fishers continue to catch hump head wrasse, unknown to most fishers that this species is protected by law.
Haribon Foundation is a membership organization committed to nature conservation through community empowerment and scientific excellence. Website www.haribon.org.ph or email firstname.lastname@example.org.