THE world’s coral reef is being attacked from all fronts – from the destruction caused by the changing climate and from the most destructive of all, humans.
“More than 70 percent of the Philippines’ 25,000 square kilometers of coral reefs are in a bad condition,” said Bonar Lafuente, executive director of the Philippine Business for the Environment (PBE), to a small gathering of fishermen, divers, and friends during the first year anniversary of The Coral Reef Project at Barangay Tagbaobo in the Island Garden City of Samal last June 24.
Global warming causes ocean acidification and warmer waters cause coral bleaching. Dirty waters cause diseases that kill not just fishes but also corals and stimulate growth of reef predators like crowns-of-thorns, starfish that suck out coral polyps causing these to die. The situation is made worse by tsunamis and strong typhoons that can break the corals and crush hectares upon hectares of healthy reefs.
Worse are direct attacks on the reefs by humans through illegal harvesting and sale, sedimentation caused by massive forest destruction, agricultural malpractices, and unsustainable urbanization.
On the fishermen and sea vessel’s side there is blast fishing, the use of cyanide, overfishing, reckless use of anchors, and ship grounding.
All these destroy the reefs that can take hundreds of years to regenerate to its healthiest state.
“(If reefs are stressed by anthropogenic activities (e.g., overfishing, sediment and nutrient run-off), they are less likely to be able to recover from large scale disturbances. Active restoration is highly unlikely to be able to assist such recovery due to the huge scale-mismatch, but good coastal management (referred to by some as ‘passive restoration’) may give them a fighting chance. If mankind attempts to manage those threats to reefs that are potentially manageable, then restoration at small scales can assist management,” reads Reef Restoration Concepts & Guidelines: Making Sensible Management choices in the face of uncertainy” by Alasdair Edwards and Edgardo Gomez, a publication of Coral Reef Targeted Research & Capacity Building for Management project.
Dr. Edgardo Gomez of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute is the most respected marine biologist for his reef restoration initiatives and publications.
Dr. Gomez’s theories and practices are what guides the private initiative of coral reef restoration off Barangay Tagbaobo in the Island Garden City of Samal, which turned one year last June 24.
Called The Coral Project, where Coral means Coral Restoration Awareness and Livelihood, the project has the support of the PBE through executive director Laurente, private individuals led by beach property owner Generose D. Tecson, and a group of fishermen who organized themselves as Nagkahiusang Mangingisda sa Tagbaobo (Namata).
“Mas masaya rito, receptive ang mga tao,” Laurente says, adding that they are getting the cooperation of the fishermen even in the implementation and protection of the no-take zone in the marine sanctuary where the corals are being planted.
So that the establishment of a no-take zone will not deprive fishermen of their source of livelihood, fish aggregating devices or payaos were installed outside the zone.
“The fishermen were having a hard time catching fish before, averaging less than five kilos every day,” Laurente said in the dialect, “with the payaos and sanctuary, they can get as much as ten kilos.”
On the education and information dissemination side, children in the neighborhood are invited to go snorkeling. Although these children frolic at sea during their free times, these children of fisher families do not have masks and snorkel and thus cannot see clearly what’s underneath the waters. From what they see, Tecson says, activities are designed to make the children appreciate marine life, understand what these are, and what human activities threaten them.
Explaining the destruction caused by blast-fishing and other fishing malpractices to a small group of divers and fishers, Laurente says coral rubbles can be dragged by surge through healthy corals and in turn will break them, especially when there big waves and strong surges.
Reef restoration, he says, can be in the form of coral transplantation that are securely fastened so that these can grow and attach itself to coral rocks and in turn revive reefs.
Theirs is a simple technology.
Branches of live corals are cut into plantable pieces, just over two inches long, and inserted into the tightly wound strands of nylon ropes at around half a meter apart. These are all done while in the water by volunteers who are given snorkeling vests and masks and snorkels so they can go about the task of unraveling the portion of the rope where the coral branch will be inserted to and sticking in the corals without having to tread water a lot. The whole length of the rope where the branches are inserted is then lowered underwater by divers who will fasten these to coral rocks and cement bases, as they did last June 24.
Underwater, the lengths of rope crisscrossing the seabed that were installed a year ago are already hosting corals that are radiating from the core upto six inches across; a pleasant sight knowing that these came from single branches that are just around two inches long.
These, however, are not expected to bring back vast expanses of coral reefs, but will somehow contribute to natural recovery; which can even be threatened by other situations underwater.
“Up to now, trained coral reef scientists have had variable success with experiments involving active restoration, so it is unrealistic and ultimately counterproductive to raise expectations that coral reefs can readily be rehabilitated,” reads the “Reef Rehabilitation Manual” by the same authors and also published by the Coral Reef Targeted Research & Capacity Building for Management project.
“At our current state of knowledge, we have some good ideas of what does not work, but still lack adequate experience to know what will work, particularly at a useful scale (several hectares). We are still learning what works and what doesn’t work in a largely empirical way. We now know that tens of thousands of coral fragments can be reared routinely into small colonies in in-situ coral nurseries, but we do not yet know whether these colonies can be deployed successfully over hectares of reef and generally survive to reproduce,” the manual continues.
Indeed, nothing beats the natural state and all that we can do is help nature a little to bring back some life to reefs that have been destroyed, whether by natural events, man-induced destruction like the spawning of hundreds of crown-of-thorns seastars because of agricultural runoff and sedimentation, or by destructive fishing methods and ship groundings.
The best that everyone can do, however, is to stop destructive methods and abide by the rules of marine sanctuaries, and, to constantly mind how we treat our environment with one thing in mind, to never poison it because of our wasteful, unsustainable, and reckless ways.