Coral reefs, often called “rainforests of the sea”, makeup the most complex marine ecosystem on earth, essential to literally millions of plant and animal species. The reefs are home to about 500 to 800 coral species, covering around 26,000 square kilometers. However, only four percent remain in pristine condition.
Reports have it that coral reefs in the country are in a steady decline, with about10 percent decline in healthy reefs in the last decade.
One of the largest threats to corals reefs is the acidification of seawater due to high carbon dioxide concentration. Ocean acidification slows down the production of calcium carbonate, a compound needed to build the “skeletal system” of corals and other calcifying marine organism. Ocean acidification threatens the health of reef ecosystems as a whole.
Diseases, storms, and change in seawater temperatures also play a major role in the destruction of our coral reefs. On the other hand, human activities such as destructive fishing, overfishing, and improper waste disposal among others, also contribute to its degradation. Degradation from human activities will continue to escalate as long as there are more and more people living near or are dependent on the sea.
Filipinnovation to restore the corals
Fortunately, marine experts from the government, academe, and research institutes have banded together to rehabilitate the coral reefs in the country. Spearheaded and funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), in partnership with the University of San Carlos (USC) plus dive shop and resort owners, the “Filipinnovation on Coral Reef Restoration” program aims to re-establish a healthy marine ecosystem with the use of local innovation.
The program, led by Dr. Filipina Sotto, marine biologist and department head at USC, conducted pilot testing of coral restoration through transplantation of coral nubbins or polyps from the laboratory to protected sites.
According to Dr. Sotto, at least eight hectares of damaged reefs are all over the country will be restored through the program. “These reefs will provide an increase in necessary habitat for many marine lives to thrive such as oysters, shrimp, clams, snails, crabs, as well as many species of fish,” she added.
The implementing agencies together with their partners have already constructed and deployed the Coral Nursery Units (CNU) in Bohol and Aklan while 36 out of 40 target CNUs have been deployed in Batangas, 20 in Aurora, 10 in Southern Leyte, and 23 in Masbate.
However, deployment of CNUs in Bataan, Boracay and Zambales are put on hold due to strong waves in the area. Each CNU, aided by a specially designed underwater frame, contains 500 coral fragments to be transplanted after a certain period.
Aside from coral transplantation, the program aims to establish a gene bank in the country and a hatchery that will produce sexually propagated juveniles for coral restocking and as transplanting materials.
The establishment of the Marine Research Laboratory in Maribago, Mactan Island, Cebu will help corals be propagated sexually that will give higher genetic diversity and higher number of coral juveniles. Also, sexual propagation causes less damage to the donor colonies than asexual propagation methods.
Also, the program will hold trainings for reef restoration and preservation in various universities. It will also generate a popularized version of protocols for coral enhancement and restoration.
Full support from the government
The Filipinnovation on Coral Restoration is a concerted effort of the DOST, Office of the Executive Secretary, Congressional Representatives, and the LGUs.
Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Climate Change, chaired by Sen. Loren Legarda, has expressed full support in the project. Legarda lauded the DOST for its initiative in restoring the country’s damaged marine ecosystems. The efforts, she said, result in enhanced livelihood opportunities and a sustained tourism promotion.
“Through this effort, we harness science not only to restore our damaged reefs but also to provide jobs, and livelihood opportunities, and promote sustainable tourism,” she said.
Legarda emphasized that the participation of the local communities, with the help from the academe and the government, is vital in the rehabilitation of our marine resources.
“As more people realize the benefits of restoring and conserving our coral reefs, we will have more allies in protecting them from the many threats that cause them irreparable damage. We must do our part to save our coral reefs,” she added.
Corals are important
Healthy reefs act as buffer zones to protect the communities since coral reefs break the waves, decreasing the chance of eroding the coastline.
Also, economic benefits can come from a healthy marine ecosystem. Aside from being home to an abundant fish population, a healthy marine ecosystem can create jobs and other economic opportunities, such as diving and snorkeling sites to increase tourist attraction.
Aside from the local communities, tourism, and especially the diving community, the academic and government sectors are seen to benefit from program through technology generation and integration.
It is said that a damaged coral reef cannot be restored to its original condition. Recovery of coral reefs may possibly take decades to centuries, thus reef preservation should be the priority management strategy.
For a healthy and sustainable marine ecosystem, prevention is indeed better than its cure.