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Visayan Sea on brink of ‘ecosystem collapse’

January 28, 2007

The Philippine Star 01/28/2007

A volunteer team of divers recently completed the first survey of the coral reefs and marine resources in the Visayan Sea. Its findings: an ecosystem on the verge of “total collapse.”

“Not a single patch of coral reef of a mere 1,000 square meters remains intact and damage to the Visayan coral reefs is up to more than 90 percent,” the underwater team of the Visayan Sea Squadron said in a statement.

“The geographic heart of the fabled Visayan Marine Triangle trembles on the brink of ecosystem collapse,” it added.

In almost all 100 sites in the Visayan Marine Triangle, the group noted that groupers (lapu-lapu) and parrotfish (molmol) — indicator species of the health of coral reefs — “have all been practically wiped out.”

The Visayan Sea, which contains some of the richest biodiversities in the world, is bound by the provinces of Masbate, Leyte, Cebu, Iloilo and Negros.

Using the internationally accepted “reef check” method, the 2006 Visayan Sea expedition, which was supported by the tourism department, surveyed more than 100 sites in the Visayan Marine Triangle. The data collected by this expedition will serve as a baseline with which to “grade” the local and national governments legally mandated to protect the marine resources.

The volunteer-divers in the 2006 expedition were young marine biology graduates from the University of San Carlos in Cebu.

As a result of the study, the Law of Nature Foundation, the mother organization of the Visayan Sea Squadron, will conduct an environmental compliance audit in selected areas during the summer.

The audit will be done in cooperation with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the Philippine Bar Association as well as the Office of the Ombudsman, the Commission on Audit and other civil society experts.

The project will assess the level of compliance by the local governments concerned with the provisions of the law, the Visayan Sea Squadron said.

“Particularly, they will assess the performance of the local government unit on marine resources protection and on the compliance with the solid waste management law,” it said.

“It is time to use the power of the law to hold accountable the very people to whom we have given powerful positions and whose salaries we pay,” said environmental lawyer Tony Oposa, team leader of the 2006 expedition.

“If they have not performed up to their legal mandates, it is but right that their constituents and the people who elected them into their positions are properly informed, especially during election season,” added Oposa.

The Visayan Sea Squadron is composed of volunteers from different sectors of society whose mission is to conserve, protect, and restore the Visayan Sea.

From April to May, the group, in partnership with the tourism department and the Philippine Commission for Sports Scuba Diving, will document the wealth of the Visayan Sea in a photography project.

“This novel strategy for eco-tourism seeks the help of local and foreign visitors — mostly scuba divers, photographers and writers — to help establish a network of marine protected areas in the Visayan Sea,” it said.

Interested persons may call Bonar Laureto at 809-6122 Gary C. 917-321-3836, or via email at teamleader@thelawofnature.org, or visit their website http://www.thelawofnature.org.

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