CoralsSeptember 30, 2006
AFTER we came back to the Silliman campus on the 27th of August from our trip to Guimaras Island to assess the damage of the August 11, 2006 bunker oil spill off the island, we announced that mangroves and beaches were the ecosystems badly affected by the spill but the submerged coral colonies did not show external evidence of oil sticking to them. When asked by the press, radio announcers and television stations a few days later, we confirmed this negative finding on corals.
But we were aware that seeing no oil sticking to the coral skeletons is different from saying that the corals were not affected by the spill. And we made sure that this message was clearly stated in our responses to questions from the press and in our assessment report sent out before the 12th of September.
Based on our observations on corals in the past we had known that stressed corals respond to attacks of predators, and possibly to chemical pollutants in seawater, by producing mucus. Mucus production is therefore an indicator of stress. In the 1980s, I published observations on branching Acropora producing mucus when grazed upon by Drupella shell. Based on this knowledge, we have stated in our assessment reports that we have to continue observing corals in badly oil-affected sites on Guimaras because we had expected that the remaining oil on beaches and in mangrove lagoons will eventually leach out to sea and possibly affect reef-forming corals as well as other organisms.
When I received a text-message from a friend who was presumably on Guimaras on the 8th or 9th of September saying that he had observed mucus on corals in affected sites, I knew we had to investigate the report immediately. This prompted me to mobilize our research group for a visit to Guimaras. For some reasons, that planned trip was postponed, so I had to assemble and send another research group from my Center (SUAKCREM) with instructions to conduct a detailed scientific survey complete with adequate controls. This survey team left for Guimaras on the early morning of Saturday, September 16th.
(For the full piece, click Corals, Sept. 30, 2006.)
Please take note that Dr. Alcala’s group was the one hired by Petron Corp. to study the oil spill’s effects on Guimaras’ marine resources. As you can see, the findings of the study, as well as his responses to comments on the validity of his group’s findings, are neither here nor there.
What Guimaras needs is a really independent scientific study, unpaid by any entity with vested interests in downplaying the oil spill, to determine the accident’s actual impact on the oil spill.