Philippine coral reefs: More than just visual treats

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It’s been almost a month since a tourist submarine was reported by a Japanese national visiting the country to have hit some coral reef beneath the Mactan Channel in Cebu. The concerned foreigner, Satoshi Toyoda, personally saw the incident, caught it on video, and posted it on YouTube. To his surprise, what was intended only for his close friends was picked up by social media and came through the national news just before the frenzy of Philippine election week.

The video was a short clip of a “Yellow Submarine” that seemed to have rammed through a huge coral formation, the impact causing some visible underwater force, and with the crashing sound one could even hear. Toyoda’s clip was a mere 3 minutes. Even so, netizens reacted with dismay. Sadly, the operator of the tourist business, despite the images that could be clearly seen on video, denied that what looked like what happened did happen.

On April 29, the Lapu-Lapu City government suspended the business permit of the Korean-operated business. A number of investigations were planned to be carried out by different agencies, including the Coast Guard and the Department of Tourism. Earlier, the local government’s Task Force Kalikasan had already stated, following a May 1 inspection dive, that they found coral damage where the incident happened, as pointed to them by Toyoda who is himself a frequent diver in the country. Investigations are currently ongoing.

It’s sad that this happened days just before the kick-off of celebrations for the Month of the Ocean this May—with its theme in fact focusing on the protection of coral reefs. Philippine coral reefs are breath-taking in the rich biodiversity they contain. And we know that they provide us with essential “ecosystem services” that support a variety of human needs.


According to the Web site Reefresilience.org, coral reefs, which support species that are the source of our food, are our “tropical rainforests” on water.

Coral reefs and the beauty within and around them thus are not just beautiful sites to see.
We need them. The Mactan Channel, where the tourist submarine operates, in fact forms part of the Important Bird Area made up of Mactan, Kalawisan and Cansaga Bays, an 18,000-hectare “complex of shallow sea bays and channels, extensive intertidal sand flats and mudflats, mangrove swamps, fishponds, salt pans and seaweed culture ponds, with coral reefs offshore.” A busy economic spot, it is currently not a protected area. But years ago, developments for the sake of tourists have been identified as among the principal threats to this IBA.

So our coral reefs are in danger, not least from what seem to be direct assaults on them.

This is not good as according to Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Region 7 Director Isabelo Montejo in a report from the Philippine Information Agency, studies show that only about 5 percent of coral reefs in the Philippines are still in “excellent” condition, while 32 percent are in “poor” condition. But this year alone we’ve seen the damage of our prized Tubbataha Reef from American and Chinese vessels that accidentally crashed into the rich marine site. And now comes this one in Cebu.

An newspaper report quoted a local environment official as saying it was not in fact the first time their attention was called on possible violations by the submarine operations.

What makes this case different is now they have proof. What if the recent event again did not make it to national media? Thankfully, what happened in Cebu was caught on video by a concerned individual who was not even in his home soil.

This time, and with the help of ordinary people who showed concern for nature, the power of the people to care made a difference. They’re the real environmental champions, and the country needs more of them.

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