A number of species of fish are slowly disappearing because of overfishing, illegal fishing and other factors in Philippine waters according to a study conducted by Haribon Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources Inc. in collaboration with Newcastle University in the United Kingdom.
The same is the finding of a scientific paper soon to be released by Dr. Margarita Lavides, Prof. Nicholas Polunin, Erina Pauline Molina, Gregorio de la Rosa Jr., Dr. Aileen Mill, Profl Steven Rushton and Prof. Selina Stead.
Included in the list of species are giant grouper (Epinephelus lanceolatus), bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) and humphead wrasse (Chelinus undulatus).
These species are believed to be extirpated or near extinct locally. Extirpated species are those that cease to exist or are extremely depleted in a particular location but can still be found in other areas.
The Darwin Initiative Project is a project in response to fish extirpations, entitled “Responding to Fish Extirpations in the Global Marine Biodiversity Epicenter.” It aims to identify fish species that have been extirpated or extremely depleted in five Marine Key Biodiversity Areas (mKBA) in the Philippines namely Lanuza Bay in Surigao del Sur, Danajon Bank in Bohol, Honda Bay in Palawan, Polillo Islands in Quezon and along the Verde Island Passage in Mindoro.
In semi-structured interviews based on their fishing experience, fisherfolks were asked the fish species they no longer catch today but was abundant in the past decades.
Assessing the present fishing situation, an 83-year-old fisher from Batangas responded, “Ang jackpot ngayon na huli ay malas na sa amin noon. Marami narin nawawalang isda [The good catch of fishers these days is the worst catch I had before. Fish species are also disappearing]”
One of the species found to get zero catch in five key biodiversity areas is Bumphead Parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) or locally known as “Taungan.” This species is the largest known parrotfish of the Family Scaridae. It is known to be the largest coral predator because it scrapes algae along with the coral where it is attached.
By scraping algae, Bumphead Parrotfishes allow coral larvae to settle and establish another coral colony. This process prevents algal growth, which is harmful to the reef ecosystem because they tend to suffocate the corals by competing for space. Studies have also shown that each individual of Bumphead Parrotfish has the capacity to consume five tons of corals annually.
These are in turn excreted as sand and may also contribute to the development of beaches and islets that serve as a breeding ground or resting area of migratory birds.
The disappearance of this species has a potential to change ecosystem function because it plays a crucial role in the development of reef ecosystems and its processes.
The project leader, Dr. Nicholas Polunin of Newcastle University along with Gregorio dela Rosa and Erina Molina of Haribon, Christina Skinner and Kaylee Prince of Newcastle University are set for a dive expedition from April to June in search for the species mentioned to be no longer caught by fishers to verify the status of these species in the five marine key biodiversity areas in the Philippines.
This study will also feed into the updating of the Philippine National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan and to kickoff a national Red Listing for fishes. The national Red Listing will evaluate the current status of species will be evaluated as either near threatened, vulnerable, endangered or extinct in the wild.