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Oil spill may reach Tubbataha — local scientists

October 7, 2006

By Katherine Adraneda
The Philippine Star 10/07/2006

SCIENTISTS warned yesterday the possible shifting of current in the Guimaras Strait could cause the oil spill to reach and affect the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea.

Complaining of being “lost in the dark” as to the course of the government’s cleanup plan, the scientists fear that the oil spill’s impact on the environment could get worse.

Dr. Wilfredo Licuanan, head of the De La Salle University’s biology department, expressed alarm over the impending change in the direction of the monsoon winds by the third week of October.

“The oil spillage must be stopped before the monsoon winds shift and drive the oil to the critical habitats of the Sulu Sea,” he said.

Currently, monsoon winds move in the southwest-to-northeast direction.

This movement is expected to shift to northeast-to-southwest direction this month.

Tubbataha Reef is located in the middle of the Central Sulu Sea, 98 nautical miles southeast of Puerto Princesa City, according to the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD).

It is home to nearly 400 species of fish and bird species, making commercial fishing or the collecting of corals illegal within 33,200 hectares of its reefs and surrounding areas, the PCSD added.

On Aug. 11, 1998, Tubbataha Reef was declared a national marine park through Proclamation No. 306.

In 1994, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) designated Tubbataha as World Heritage Site.

Reports said the sunken tanker M/T Solar I continues to leak five liters of bunker oil each hour.

The government has disclosed intentions to siphon out the remaining industrial oil from the tanker by December.

However, scientists and experts believe that the bunker oil is “something not really easy to pump out,” and that “December would be too late.”

Even the tightening of the valves of the tanker to prevent more oil from coming out may not be enough, the scientists added.

Meanwhile, scientists and experts said salvaging the oil tanker from the deep sea may not be an option because the ship might not survive the process of bringing it up to the surface.

“We can’t wait (for long)… we have to do something now, we need to do something soon,” Licuanan said.

“More people should listen to the University of the Philippines-Visayas. We have to know who really is calling the shots here so the experts, scientists would know who should be given advice,” he said.

On the other hand, Dr. Wilfredo Campos, Philippine Association of Marine Science president, said the government appeared to be lacking in transparency and coordination with experts on its plan for controlling the oil spill.

“In a way the government seemed to have been failing to consult our experts and scientists on what to do with the problem (even) when the capability of the University of the Philippines-Visayas for instance has already been acknowledged,” he said.

“I think politics should be shunned… We need to be a pool to be able to have better approach on this matter.”

Campos is an expert of coastal/reef ecology, fisheries biology, and biological oceanography.

At a press conference yesterday in Quezon City, the scientists and experts appealed for transparency from the government, pushing for “science-based protocols and coordination” to address the oil spill.

While they refused to criticize past measures and actions of the government on the oil spill, the scientists and experts said it is time for the government “to end the confusion” and engage in “more careful and more efficient approach” to the problem.

They said there is “a lot of uncoordinated actions from the national level down to the barangay level” regarding the cleanup efforts.

They called attention to the use of chemical dispersants on sea and reported use of detergents to remove oil slick from mangroves and shores.

“In other countries, authorities concerned do consultations before deciding to do something or use something, even on what kind of dispersants to use,” said Dr. Jurgenne Primavera, senior scientist of the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center-Aquaculture Department and fellow of PEW Program in Marine Conservation.

“Their actions were result of a collective decision.

“Our government tend to have a knee-jerk reaction on this kind of incident,” said Dr. Maria Lourdes McGlone, director/professor of chemical oceanography at the Marine Science Institute in UP-Diliman.

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