THE Haribon Foundation is working to conserve a critical but often overlooked part of the marine ecosystem, the Philippines’ seagrass meadows, through the Strengthening the Marine Protected Areas (MPA) to Protect the Marine Key Biodiversity Areas in the Philippines (MKBA) Project in Lanuza Bay, Surigao del Sur.
Seagrasses are flowering plants that are adapted to seawater, much like mangroves. The only difference is that they live fully submerged in seawater and are exposed to direct sunlight only during low tides. They come from three families, Hydrocharitaceae, Zosteraceae and Cymodoceaceae. Globally, there are more than 67 species of seagrasses.
The Philippines has 18 seagrass species spread across the entire country. Some of the more extensive seagrass beds are found in Caluya in Antique; Northern Palawan; the Polillo Islands in Quezon; Hinatuan and Cortes in Surigao del Sur; and Cateel Bay in Davao Oriental. They can live as deep as 15 meters (or 50 feet) like those found on the coast of Baler, Aurora and Polillo Island. They reproduce like grasses on land (hence their moniker), by duplicating (or cloning) themselves. By that characteristic, they (and the grasses) are called colonial organisms.
The main threat to seagrasses is reclamation, Haribon Foundation explained. Because they are often perceived as having no direct benefit to humans, seagrass beds are often either dug up or covered to allow construction of industrial and tourism infrastructure. Seagrass beds can also be destroyed by improper mangrove reforestation and restoration.
Without proper guidance and information, mangrove reforestation projects encroach on seagrass beds. The planted mangrove seedlings may either die from space and nutrient competition or kill or reduce the seagrass beds. Haribon stressed that if mangrove reforestation projects are seen doing this, they should be reported to the nearest office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), or local government unit.
In addition to large fauna like the dugong and sea turtles that graze on seagrass beds, they also provide a habitat for other species such as ghost pipefish, frogfish, nudibranches, seamoths, and stargazers.
Haribon’s MBA-MKBA project aims to assist local government units in properly managing seagrass meadows, and is supported by the Global Environment Facility of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the DENR. Together with its local partner, the Lanuza Bay Development Alliance, Haribon will assist the local government units and communities by establishing and strengthening MPAs and MPA network in Lanuza Bay over the next four years.
Gregorio E. de la Rosa, Jr./Haribon Foundation