MANILA, Philippines—In the wake of foreign vessels running aground on the Tubbataha Reefs, the richness of the country’s coral reefs will take center stage during the observance this month of the Month of the Ocean, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said on Friday.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is to lead this year’s celebration with the theme: “Ang Bahura ay Kagubatan sa Karagatan, Ating Pangalagaan (Coral reefs are the forest of the seas, let’s protect them)!”
The observance of the Month of the Ocean takes on new resonance considering the back-to-back incidents of an American warship and a Chinese vessel getting stuck on reefs in Tubbataha in January and April, respectively.
Last month, a 48-by-8-meter fishing vessel with 12 suspected Chinese poachers got stuck on a reef in the Tubbataha marine park in the Sulu Sea. The vessel was confiscated and the Chinese charged and fined.
The incident occurred just months after the minesweeper USS Guardian ran aground on Tubbataha on January 17. Salvors had to dismantle the vessel piece by piece in order not to further damage the reef, and finished extricating it on March 30.
In a news release, Paje said the Month of the Ocean was one occasion to return attention to the importance of safeguarding coral reefs, including Tubbataha, a World Heritage Site, and the Apo Reef Natural Park in Occidental Mindoro, the world’s second largest contiguous coral reef system next to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
“The focus on coral reefs highlights the premium that we put on our coral reefs, which protect our coastlines naturally and give tremendous economic benefits to millions of Filipinos particularly through fisheries and tourism,” Paje said.
The official represented the Philippines at the Sustainable Ocean Summit held in Washington, D.C. from April 22 to 24.
Paje said the country’s coral reef systems spread out across 240 million hectares of water provide food security to Filipinos, who source 80 percent of their protein requirement from the oceans.
One of the highlights of the month-long celebration will be the launch of the DENR’s Sustainable Coral Reef Ecosystem Management Program (SCREMP) on May 20, a program for a strategic, sustainable and ecosystem-based approach in the protection and rehabilitation of coral reef ecosystems.
The agency will also launch the Coastal Law Enforcement Manual, a guidebook for multi-sectoral groups enforcing laws to protect the country’s coastal and marine resources.
Information materials on the richness of coral reef ecosystems, their economic importance, and the various ways to conserve and sustain them will also be displayed or posted at all Metro Rail Transit stations along EDSA during the month of May.