The Philippines has the world's richest marine life, but the question is, for how long?
It is already fascinating to know that the Philippines is considered as the “center of marine biodiversity,” now imagine being at the center of the center. The Verde Island Passage, spanning an area of roughly 1.14 million hectares of sea surrounding the provinces of Batangas, Oriental and Occidental Mindoro, Marinduque, and Romblon, is recognized as the “center of the center of marine shore fish biodiversity.”
In 2005, two marine scientists, Victor Springer of the Smithsonian Institute and Kent Carpenter of the International Union for Conservation and Nature, recorded an astounding 1,736 intersecting marine species thriving in a 10-kilometer stretch of Verde Passage, recording the highest concentration of marine life anywhere in the world.
Prior to joining the Greenpeace Philippines documentation trip to Verde Island, this mind-blowing fact was unbeknownst to me. While I have seen the vast riches of our marine life by snorkeling the waters of Coron in Palawan, Mantigue Island off Camiguin, Moalboal and Malapascua in Cebu, and countless other ocean gems of the Philippines, I still felt a slight hint of disbelief, which later became a sense of pride, learning that such a place of crucial importance in marine biodiversity can be found three hours from Manila.
Verde Island Passage is a strait that splits the islands of Luzon and Mindoro, linking Tayabas Bay with the Sibuyan Sea and the West Philippine Sea. As dynamic as the activity above water, where shipping routes between Port of Manila and the Visayas and Mindanao navigate over Verde Passage, the underwater environment is numerous times busier brought upon by the tremendous activities from its flourishing and healthy marine life.
The boatman tells us how a foreign scuba diver bellowed to him, “(Verde Passage is) one of the best in the world.” While I wasn’t able to see it with my own eyes, the splendor residing in the under belly of Verde Passage has been captured in the photographs taken by our new diver friends from NUDI (Network of Underwater Digital Imagers, Inc.), which showed a stunning collection of underwater spectacles that need protection from all kinds of threat.
Experienced scuba diver Wowi Wong revels at the visual banquet he witnessed underwater.
“The depths of Verde Passage seems like Tubbataha Reef without the ‘big boys’ (sharks, mantas, whale sharks) and its ecosystem of corals are so rich there is barely no sandy area to see.”
BECOMING AN OCEAN DEFENDER
NUDI scuba diver Ana Marie Lat adds;
“We are very fortunate that Verde Island, the center of the center of marine biodiversity, is easily accessible to us. It never fails to showcase its richness in coral formations, varying species of nudibranchs, sea snakes, eels, schools of big-eye trevally, rainbow runners, snappers, jacks, tuna, and many more. We were even greeted during our second dive by a hawksbill turtle. For underwater photographers like me, it is a haven both for macro and wide angle photography and videography.”
Outlining the importance of Verde Island and its Corridor Passage, Greenpeace-Philippines Oceans campaigner Vince Cinches adds;
“Verde Island is dubbed as the global epicenter of marine biodiversity, and represents the richness of our country’s marine ecosystem. It is threatened by illegal and destructive fishing, unsustainable tourism, and pollution. Our seas are important to us as it is not just about food, recreation, and livelihood, but more about our identity as Filipinos. Protecting it is not just right and important, but necessary to ensure that the future will have a healthy ocean.”
We all know the environmental threats the island of Boracay is facing now and from my own experience of traveling all over the Philippines, each time I leave a place, whether it is Calaguas Island, Palaui Island, Calayan Island up north, or Siquijor, among other beautiful beaches, the elephant in the room is always, “How long will this paradise last?” Because I vividly remember the pristine waters and soft sands of Talipanan in Puerto Galera of my college years—images now existing only in my memory as Puerto Galera is now run over by beach resorts protruding oh-so-close to the waters—I have reasons to be worried.
It’s as if we are burdened with a time frame set aside for each majestic sea in our archipelago nation, with bountiful underwater creatures clinging to dear life, whose survival rely solely on how we humans would behave. To face this growing problem, Greenpeace Philippines has submitted an urgent proposal outlining what we need to do to reverse the worsening conditions of our country’s marine resources.
THE ULTIMATE TREASURE TROVE
While it calls the national government and the LGUs to a set of crucial steps of “managing fishing capacity; improving conditions of critical ecosystems; improving the wellbeing of people reliant upon our seas; and strengthening the management functions of the government,” the rest of the burden lies on all of us to do our share. If we want our children to see and enjoy our many beautiful islands, sublime beachfronts, and marine resources, we must take a stand against all forms of environmental abuse. Defending our ocean isn’t just the concern of one or two environmental groups; it should be our main duty as well.
Apart from the many marine species, Verde Passage also boasts of 319 species of corals, which serve as the underwater abode of fish species. Irresponsible tourism, illegal fishing, and pollution, however, caused by over-development and urbanization represent the kind of risks that Verde Passage and our other marine treasures face today.
As a non-licensed scuba diver, I joined the rest of my traveling companions at Verde Island where we snorkeled by the shore. The healthy coral system is already evident from the shallow waters, making me imagine the kind of haven residing in the deeper part.
Our weekend trip to Verde Island was an eye-opener for me. I learned about how things could quickly shift and suddenly threaten a rich marine sanctuary through lack of foresight and recklessness. The images taken by NUDI divers Wowi Wong and Ana Marie Lat are a testament to the wonders of our marine resources. Their very threatened existence right now should stir us to action and push us to do everything we can to protect and defend these precious resources from natural and man-made threats.
This article appeared on the July 19, 2015 issue of Manila Bulletin's Panorama Magazine.
Photo Credits: Wowi Wong and Marie Lat of NUDI (Network of Underwater Digital Imagers Inc. and Studio H2O)