The killing by dynamite fishing of some dwarf sperm whales in Siargao[i] earlier this week underscores the continuing threat that human activities pose to whales and dolphins, and also the problem of weak enforcement of existing marine protection laws by government agencies.
These whale deaths were the unfortunate consequence of an illegal fishing method that persists due to a lack of enforcement capacity, and the fact that the shocking state of our ocean remains out of sight and out of mind to our government and the wider public alike.
We Filipinos rely mainly on our seas for our daily animal protein needs. 64 out of 80 provinces all over the country are coastal, and more than 60% of our population—more than 40,000,000 people—rely directly on our seas.
Our oceans, which sustain the livelihoods of countless coastal communities, are under tremendous pressure from a range of human-made threats including destructive fishing, climate change, and pollution.
Although only a few nations still conduct commercial whale hunts, hundreds of thousands of whales and dolphins die as a result of human activities every year. Climate change, ocean acidification, toxic and noise pollution, and prey depletion due to overfishing all negatively impact cetaceans. In fact, it is estimated that more than 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die every year as a result of being caught in fishing gear and nets.
This 'bycatch', as it is called, is by far the single biggest killer of the said marine life globally and is a result of overfishing and the highly destructive fishing methods used in some fisheries. And if these factors are affecting the health of whale and dolphin populations, so too do they hurt the general health of our oceans.
The cumulative effects of these threats are pushing our coastal fishers to pursue desperate means in order to catch sufficient fish to feed their families. This destructive cycle will only get worse if the government, BFAR, and other enforcement agencies do not take action to safeguard the marine environment on which we all depend.
The death of the whales, while disturbing in itself, is also just a symptom of a much greater problem - the oceans crisis. In order to reverse this trend, the Government must as a matter of urgency develop a roadmap that addresses the problems of overfishing and ecosystem degradation in a holistic manner.
Greenpeace Philippines together with partners drawn from the scientific community, fishing communities from Mindanao, Visayas, and Luzon, as well as other civil society organizations including NGOs for Fisheries Reforms, Tambuyog Development Center, and WWF are calling on the government to adopt a roadmap to recovery for the Philippine seas that will dramatically improve the management of fishing capacity in the country.
It’s also aimed at restoring critical marine ecosystems, strengthening marine management functions of the relevant government agencies, and in due course, improve the well being of the many communities reliant on the seas.
Vince Cinches is the Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace Philippines. Follow him on Twitter via @vincecinches.
[Photo: Damien Gagnieux]