A question often asked is: How are our biological resources doing? Without going into the quantitative scientific details, the answer is simple and straightforward: They are not doing well, they are highly stressed, and they will most likely degrade to the point of no return unless we, the Filipino people, resolve to protect and manage them in sustainable ways.
I did a quick and rough assessment of a dozen major groups of biological resources ranging from coral species to economically important angel wings shell (Pholas), and came up with a score of 3 out of 12 (25%) that can be considered not so stressed. Three-fourths of our resources are in danger of either extinction or depletion to the point of no return in the near future.
I would like to stress that this assessment is mine, and I invite others to do the same, to make assessments of specific marine resources, an activity that we have not done as much as other countries have accomplished. I have just visited South Korea. Scientists in that country have made impressive assessments of their natural resources. Just to illustrate their attention to details, they have made assessments of the number of species of birds that visit Korean shores every year!
It is a common observation that many of our resources are now less abundant than before, and there are many good examples of local extinctions of our biological resources in the Philippines. The chambered nautilus, a fishery up to the mid- 1980s in the Tañon Strait between Negros and Cebu, is now extinct. A couple of species of cone shells off the island of Aliguay in the Bohol Sea are known to be locally extinct now, due to intense exploitation by shell collectors. A report just published talks about 20 fish species that have disappeared in fish catches off Bohol Island.
In general, our coastal fisheries, which, at this time, have been depleted so much so that only 5-10% of the fish biomass in the 1930s and 1940s are all that remain today. This is an alarming situation, which everybody, especially our local and national government officials, should be aware of. More importantly, they should take immediate steps to correct the situation.
The dismal picture takes on a more serious and broader implication, considering the fact that the coastal areas are inhabited by the greater proportion of our human population, which has increased to about 95 million. The exploitation pressure exerted by this large number of people is going to increase day by day, resulting in more and more depletion of the coastal fishery and biodiversity resources.
In closing, I would like to quote from a column written by Stephen Hopper, Director of the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, UK published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer last Sunday: “Biodiversity is essential to our health, wealth, and well-being, and we now have the ability to halt its destruction and turn the tide. It is simply a question of priorities.” My question is: Is protection and management of our marine biodiversity one of our priorities?