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Expert echoes concern over reef destruction's economic impact

By Catherine J. Teves

MANILA, April 16 (PNA) – An expert has projected the annual economic losses from the reported 300-hectare coral reef destruction by China's reclamation in West Philippine Sea can reach USD 100 million.

"Such losses will probably be in that vicinity," Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) Executive Director for Priority Programs and Coastal and Marine concerns Dr. Vincent Hilomen said Thursday at a Senate hearing on Philippine corals and other marine resources.

He raised urgency for preventing further coral destruction in West Philippine Sea where China is pursuing its territorial claim, noting reefs provide environmental and non-environmental services.

Reefs are also essential in supporting marine life, he noted.

"Healthy coral reefs will provide as much as 30 metric tons of fishery products per square kilometer annually," he said, citing a study by Philippine national scientist Dr. Angel Alcala.

Hilomen noted such produce spell on earnings of millions of people who depend on the sea for their livelihood.

During the hearing, Senate environment and natural resources committee chairperson Sen., Loren Legarda directed BMB to further study the Department of Foreign Affairs' (DFA) concern about reported destruction of reefs in West Philippine Sea.

She highlighted need to protect the country's reefs, saying these are "rainforests of the seas" and function as habitat for various marine species.

Legarda also directed BMB, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources as well as the science department to furnish the committee data on state of Philippine reefs and other marine resources nationwide, including those in disputed West Philippine Sea waters.

The data will help her draft a resolution aimed at looking into the matter so interventions can be undertaken further to protect such resources.

"We must know the state of our marine environment and itsvulnerabilities," she said.

Such information was essential, particularly as there were indications that only a "small percentage of the country's coral reefs remain in good condition," she noted.

In a statement this week, DFA called on China to stop itsreclamation activities in West Philippine Sea – the area also known as South China Sea.

DFA said such activities were already causing "irreversible and widespread" damage to biodiversity and ecological balance there.

"We cannot accept China’s claim that its activities have not caused damage to the ecological environment of the South China Sea," said DFA.

Hilomen agreed, noting the reclamation activities must end to prevent further destruction of coral reefs there.

"It's really important for the Philippines to protest what China is doing," he said.

Experts noted aside from being tourist attractions, reefs serve as foraging ground for various marine species including commercially important ones.

US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also said reefs support more species per unit area than any other marine environment.

Such species are potential sources of new medicine for various ailments, noted NOAA.

Reefs also provide environmental services by protecting adjacent shorelines from wave action to prevent erosion, property damage and loss of life, experts said.

Among reported Chinese reclamation activities in West Philippine Sea is building artificial islets atop reefs there.

BMB knowledge management specialist Jerika Velasco sees nil chance for survival of reefs in such situation.

"Building atop reefs will block out sunlight – it's like burying these ecosystems alive," she said earlier.

Even if only part of a reef is affected by reclamation, she said there's no guarantee this ecosystem would recover and heal fast enough.

"Recovery will be difficult for unhealthy reefs," she noted.

Reports also said China's reclamation activities in West Philippine Sea included expansion of some reefs there.

Velasco warned reclamation materials dumped in marine waters could block coral spores' dispersal to nearby areas, preventing these from developing and eventually forming natural reefs.

"Change in flow of current due to such deposits' presence will affect marine biodiversity as well," she said. (PNA)

RMA/CJT/CDN

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