The havoc wrought by super-typhoons like Yolanda on land is well-documented, but its damage to ocean life like coral reefs is less well-known.
Continuous monitoring by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-Philippines found the danger strong typhoons pose to coral reefs, which are vital to the marine ecosystem and biodiversity aside from being tourist attractions of the Philippines.
The study found that corals in areas pounded by strong waves have learned to grow dense, tough and compact colonies.
But when a super typhoon hits, storm surges like the ones seen in Tacloban and Manila Bay can pull debris like logs and rocks out to sea, where wave action rolls them around, smashing the seabed in a brutal game of coral crush.
Sand stirred up by violent waves can smother and choke off corals plus other invertebrates like sponges and giant clams. Finally, too much rainwater can engorge rivers, causing them to discharge massive amounts of nutrient-rich mud, blanketing reefs and spurring blooms of fast-growing seaweed or algae, which can out compete corals for space and sunlight.
Situated off Occidental Min–doro, Apo Reef is the largest in Asia and the second largest on Earth. It covers 34 square kilome–ters and hosts almost 200 coral species. Apo Reef Natural Park became a no-take zone in 2007, curbing illegal fishing activity. Fish biomass breached 76 tons per square kilometer. Even after full protection though, Apo Reef suffered extensive damage from Super Typhoon Caloy in 2006.
“It looked exactly like a freshly deforested jungle,” recalls WWF-Philippines Mindoro Project Manager John Manul after the typhoon. “Giant table corals were uprooted. Broken coral branches were everywhere. Even the distinctive haze that envelopes burnt-out forests was replicated, because even after a week, the water was milky from stirred up sand.”
Fortunately, some groups stand vigil to protect the country’s marine resources. WWF-Philippines is working with coastal communities, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, local government units of Sablayan and Cagayancillo, plus Cebu Pacific Air to protect the country’s most important coral reefs.
Launched in 2008, Bright Skies for Every Juan enjoins CEB flyers to take an active part in minimizing the environmental impacts of air travel by making online donations to climate change adaptation projects, for both Apo Reef in Mindoro and the Tubbataha Reefs in Palawan.
Since 2008, CEB passengers have donated over P25 million to WWF climate adaptation initiatives for the two reefs, funding the procurement of patrol boats, establishing monitoring stations and conducting fish plus coral surveys.