AS we celebrate Ocean’s Month, we would like to highlight one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems, home to tens of thousands of marine species, the coral reefs.
Coral Triangle Day was also recently celebrated last June 9, 2016, by various conservation organizations around the world. Celebrating it with the theme, “Save Coral Triangle – Stop Plastic Pollution,” it aimed to spread awareness of the detrimental effect of plastics in our marine waters.
However, what is the Coral triangle?
The Coral Triangle is a region known to have the highest concentration of fish and coral species in the world. It is where 76 percent of the world’s known coral species, 37 percent of all known reef fish species and 33 percent of the world’s coral reefs are found. It is approximately 6,000 square kilometres encompassing six different countries including the Philippine archipelago, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Timor-Leste and the Solomon Islands.
The Philippines, as part of the Coral Triangle, is also considered to be the global epicenter of marine biodiversity, having high species diversity of fish and corals. However, it is also known to be the most threatened due to man-made activities such as overfishing, destructive fishing practices, coastal development and ocean pollution.
Ocean Pollution as one of the threats
Ocean pollution is becoming a major threat faced by our marine ecosystems. According to a study released by the Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey Center for Business and Environment in 2015, eight million tons of plastic waste is dumped into the ocean every year, and the Philippines is one of the five countries that contribute to 60% of the total plastic waste entering the ocean.
Plastics stuck in the ocean floor may have possibly landed on hard corals which may inhibit their growth and reproduction. If corals don’t grow and reproduce, this can mean fewer habitats and shelter for many marine organisms, no more natural protection of our coastlines from the damaging effects of wave action and tropical storms, and lesser source of nitrogen and other essential nutrients for marine food chains. Less fish means less food and income source.
Plastics are also mistakenly ingested by many marine species like sea turtles that consume this instead of jelly fishes. Microplastics, small plastic particles in the environment that are generally smaller than one millimeter that come from a variety of sources including cosmetics, clothing, and other industrial processes, are also being eaten by both corals and marine life which pose a threat to their survival because they get poisoned overtime and/or die prematurely.
Surveys of hard coral cover from 2008 to 2014 show that only 4 percent of Philippine coral reefs are in excellent condition. Other studies also revealed that areas with poor coral cover have increased through time. Fish species are also said to be locally depleted and/or extinct in some part of the Philippines such as the bumphead parrotfish and the humphead wrasse, according to a study done by Haribon Foundation and Newcastle University UK. This shows that the Philippine coral reefs have been subjected to habitat degradation and ocean pollution throughout the years with impacts on the survival of marine species.
What can we do?
With the Philippine coral reefs supporting around 20 percent of total marine fisheries production and fish and fishery products providing 11.7 percent of the total Filipino food consumption, the degradation of our coral reefs poses a threat to the livelihood of 5 to 6 million Filipinos. It is therefore warranted that Philippine coral reefs should be conserved and protected.
There are a number of solutions which can be done to address this issue. One of which is the significant reduction of plastic waste. We therefore call for the public to reduce the use of plastics and encourage others to do the same. Let’s practice the 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. These are some simple and real concrete actions that if we work together, we can make a big difference in protecting our coral reefs from the threat of plastic pollution.
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Haribon Foundation is a membership organization committed to nature conservation through community empowerment and scientific excellence. Its members and employees advocate for biodiversity conservation by building constituencies, empowering communities and applying scientific and multi-disciplinary approaches.