If the ongoing reclamation activities along the Dumaguete coastline are allowed to continue, 200 species of fish, about 200 species of corals, and seven seagrass species will be lost, according to marine experts.
A recent study conducted in Dumaguete’s four marine-protected areas established along the City’s eight-kilometer coast has found that local fishcatch (like reef-based snappers, parrotfishes, surgeon fishes, and wrasses, and pelagic species like round and bigeye scads, mackerel tuna, and sardines), and their habitats (such as coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses) can further decline and collapse as reclamation continues.
Common fishcatch includes 100 species of macroinvertebrates, including sea urchins, locally known as salawaki.
The preliminary results of marine habitat and biodiversity surveys commissioned by the Silliman University Alumni Association Inc., were conducted by marine scientists Dr. Aileen Maypa, Clarissa Reboton, Danielle Mark Fukuda, and Dr. Janet Estacion of the SU Institute of Environmental & Marine Sciences.
The study recommends that instead of expanding the boulevard, Dumaguete City and its residents will benefit from activities that will focus on “rehabilitation of water quality and degraded marine ecosystems, management of solid and liquid waste, and marine biodiversity protection activities”.
“We appeal to the mayor of Dumaguete City, and to those who practice reclamation, to instead prioritize food security, resilience against the adverse impacts of rapid climate change through marine biodiversity protection and conservation, and sustainable development before our already-declining fish stocks and marine resources collapse,” the marine experts said.
Maypa said the Philippines lies within the center of the global marine biodiversity hotspot – where the number and the diversity of marine organisms are “very high”.
Part of this biodiversity are the habitats (spawning/breeding ground) and the hundreds to thousands of species of fish, shells, crabs, and shrimps that we call “food”.
“Based on the Red List category of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the coral species of the Dumaguete coast include some endangered, vulnerable, threatened species (20), and near-threatened species (60).
“This makes the Dumaguete coast an ‘environmentally critical area’ based on Proclamation 2146 of 1981,” she warned.
“For a country that relies on fish and fish products as its staple food — next to rice, that has many communities that depend on coastal and marine tourism for employment and livelihood, and which has a plan to invest in nature-based tourism, the protection of biodiversity and its habitats should be a priority — not reclamation,” the marine experts reiterated.
They noted that the Dumaguete coast is a “functional fishing ground” and has a lot of potential for marine ecotourism.
Citing data from the Dumaguete City Agriculture Office, annual fish production from 2019 to 2021 was estimated at 30 to 40 metric tons.
These species, the scientists said, are common in the shallow seagrass beds, commonly gleaned by fisherfolks for its gonads, along with many shell species.
The scientists also recorded charismatic macroinvertebrates popular with scuba divers and snorkelers, such as nudibranchs, anemone small shrimps, and crabs.
In 2021, Silliman University, together with the NoTo174Dumaguete Coalition, led various sectors of Dumaguete in opposing the Dumaguete Mayor’s 174-hectare reclamation activity, and island-building along the coast.
To this day, active reclamation continues through the continued extension of ‘Pantawan Dos’ towards barangay Tinago, even without the required permits from the Department of Environment & Natural Resources and the Philippine Reclamation Authority. (Irma Faith Pal)
Photo Caption: Fisherfolk from barangay Piapi bring back their bubo (fish trap) to shore at sunrise after harvesting their fishcatch along the Dumaguete coast. (Photo by Aileen Maypa)