Alarms ring as PH loses all ‘excellent’ reef cover amidst climate change, other man-made threats

Press release - February 16, 2018
16 February 2018, Manila, Philippines - With 2018 declared as the 3rd International Year of the Reefs, scientists, conservation organizations and fisherfolk gathered today at the Greenpeace flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, to sound the alarm on the impacts of climate change on the world’s oceans, starting with our coral reefs. The groups called on countries and governments to urgently act to stop further deterioration of the coral reefs and the ocean.

A recent nationwide coral reef survey in the Philippines, conducted in 2015-2017 covering 166 coral sampling stations (108 Luzon, 31 Visayas and 27 Mindanao) in 31 provinces, reveals that Philippine coral reefs are in a bad state. None of these coral stations were classified in the excellent category (i.e. >44% hard coral cover or HCC). Ninety percent (90%) of these stations (i.e. 154 of 166) were either “poor” (<22% HCC, 74 stations)  or “fair”(>22-33% HCC, 80 stations).[1]

Increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere drives the rise in atmospheric temperatures (global warming), resulting in extreme weather events, changes in rainfall patterns and warming of oceans, which then lead to mass coral bleaching and sea level rise (from ice melt and expansion). Increase in CO2 in the atmosphere also means higher dissolution of carbon dioxide in the oceans, causing ocean acidification.

The group Philippine Coral Bleaching Watch has documented the impacts of mass coral bleaching events at least three times in the last 20 years - in 1997-1998, 2010, and 2016-2017. Based on the 469 coral bleaching incident reports the group has collated for 2016 and 2017, the ‘no bleaching’ reports (250) exceeded the ‘bleaching reports’(181).

“Coral bleaching impact was sporadic across the country. The degree of bleaching severity was varied and occurred at different months. What we are not certain about is whether or not our coral reefs still have the capacity to recover from such acute events amidst more chronic stressors such as pollution, overfishing and sedimentation,” said Mags Quibilan, Coordinator for Philippine Coral Bleaching Watch.

The combined effects of human activities on marine coastal ecosystems and impacts of climate change will cause significant degradation and impede or further delay natural recovery. Highly degraded marine coastal ecosystems would be compromised from delivering essential ecosystem goods and services to Filipinos, which are now valued at US$966 billion.[2]

“Our waters are already troubled by pollution, illegal fishing and destructive fishing that has made the fisherfolk sector the poorest of the poor. Now, as we face the devastating effects of climate change, we can see that this will aggravate the plight of our poor fishers, including fellow Filipinos reliant on a healthy sea for food, tourism and other forms of livelihood,” said Ruperto Aleroza, National Chairperson of Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan, a national coalition of fishers and farmers in the Philippines.

In spite of all these threats on coral reef ecosystems and on the plants and animals associated with them, the oceans still protect us from the impacts of global warming. Over  90% of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases has been stored in the ocean.[3] But the groups warned that man-made pressure, coupled with climate change, are pushing ocean ecosystems to its limits.

“The impacts of climate change is far reaching, and we need to address it at the root cause and extract accountability from carbon majors. Despite contributing less to climate causing gases, we are feeling the brunt of what the global north and carbon majors are doing. In order to stop this, a cohesive global movement of people is needed. Our reefs, seagrass, mangroves, and other organisms in our seas are feeling the heat, but a healthy ocean is a solution to climate change, and we need to keep it that way by creating a large network of no-take marine protected areas,” said Vince Cinches, Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines.

The groups are calling for increased protection of the reefs and other marine ecosystems through the establishment and effective management of a network of marine protected areas and ocean sanctuaries, to include not only coral reefs, but also seagrass and mangrove areas. This would safeguard and strengthen their natural climate mitigation and adaptation capacity. The groups are also demanding for better enforcement of fishery laws and the implementation of coastal, land and water use plans. They also echo the calls of many groups to make carbon majors [4] accountable by drastically cutting off their emissions and hastening a just transition to low carbon development.

“The Philippines, being the epicenter of global marine biodiversity and the apex of the coral triangle, is crucial to a healthy and resilient world’s ocean. Even though massive bleaching has happened across the country, we can remain hopeful since there are coral reef areas that that did not bleach and are showing signs of recovery. While we need to better understand the factors that make our coral reefs resilient, it is imperative that we improve our protection efforts and mitigation measures. The science that we know now is crucial to find ways to accelerate recovery and enhance the science that will spur strategic policies and actions. In this way, we are able to forge local actions by working together towards global solutions, thus paving the way to recovery and climate resilient seas,” said Dr. Perry Alino, professor at the University of the Philippines - Marine Science Institute.

Notes to editors:

[1] Licuanan AM et al. 2017. Initial findings of the Nationwide Assessment of Philippine coral reefs. Phil. J. Sci. 146(2): 179-187. Synoptic Investigations of Human Impacts on Nearshore Environments (SHINE): Coral Reefs Project, a component of the DOST-funded the National Assessment of Coral Reef Environments (NACRE) program that focuses on reef benthos.

[2] Azanza et al. 2017

[3] http://www.oceanscientists.org/index.php/topics/ocean-warming

[4] http://www.greenpeace.org/seasia/ph/press/releases/Worlds-largest-carbon-producers-ordered-to-respond-to-allegations-of-human-rights--abuses-from-climate-change/The-Climate-Change-and-Human-Rights-Petition/

For more information:

Vince Cinches, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace Southeast Asia - Philippines, | +63 949 889 1336

Miledel Christine “Mags” Quibilan, Coordinator, Philippine Coral Bleaching Watch, | +63 9298385926

Porfirio “Perry” Alino, PhD., Professor, Marine Science Institute, University of the Philippines - Diliman, | +63 917 838 7042

For photos and videos:

Grace Duran-Cabus, Photo Desk, Greenpeace Southeast Asia
g | +63 949 889 1335