By Estrella Z. Gallardo
In a press conference titled “The Destruction of Marine Resources in the West Philippine Sea”, (April 23, 2015) The Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Natural Resources DA-BFAR and University of The Philippines Marine Science Institute Professor Emeritus and National Scientist Dr. Edgardo G. Gomez presented a comprehensive study on the damaged inflicted to marine biodiversity and economic productivity by China’s increased militarization in the region.
The two, joined the previous call of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on China to stop its reclamations activities in the west Philippine sea which not only compromises ecological balance but also “Threatens peace and stability in the region.
Satellite photos have captured the massive and irreversible damage by China’s reclamation activities in several coral reef ecosystems including but not limited to Burgos Reef, Gaven Reef and Kagitingan Reef,Fiery Cross Reef. Which are both part of the disputed water. As of March 2015, reef ecosystems destroyed in Spratlys or the Kalayaan Group of Islands have already reached an estimated area of 311 hectares.
According to Dr. Gomez, Spratlys coral reef ecosystem services, or both the direct and indirect contribution of the ecosystem to human well-being, amount to 350,000 US dollars per hectare per year. That is a total of 108.9 million US dollars of annual economic losses to countries around the South China Sea, which China claims wholly based on its nine-dash line principle.
Aside from the construction of military bases in the West Philippine Sea, poaching of giant clam shells, corals, and other marine species by Chinese fishing vessels has repeatedly caused damaged to the area’s ecological balance, said Gomez. Illegally harvested shells are brought to mainland China, particularly to its Hainan province, where they are processed and sold as various coral crafts, shell bracelets, shell necklaces and mounted shell carvings.
“Healthy coral reefs in the West Philippine Sea are very important not only to us but also to the productivity of neighboring marginal seas made possible through larval connectivity,” Gomez explained.
Years ago giant clams from Bolinao Pangasinan were transferred to the areas (subject to the present marine dispute) to enhance their growth and multiplication, and at the same time serve as sanctuary for the different marine species on the seabed.
Dr. Gomez himself had brought thousands of baby clams to different places along the areas in question.
However in 2012 the Chinese harvested our giant clams for their shells (dead or alive) for commercial purposes for carvings most especially as an alternative for the use of ivory since is very expensive and hard to procure.
These artworks from shells of giant claims are brought to mainland China, as stated by Dr. Gomez for sale at pretty good prices.
Meanwhile BFAR Director and concurrent OIC-DA Undersecretary for Fisheries Atty. Asis Perez stressed the significance of these resources as they provide livelihood for Filipino fisher folk. Unabated destruction of coral reefs affects at least nine fishing municipalities along the country’s western seaboard.
That is equivalent to more than 12,000 people who directly rely on fishing for income. Total combined volume of catch in these regions is estimated at 21,186.8 MT based on the 2014 data of BFAR’s National Stock Assessment Program (NSAP).
“We urge China to respect its international commitments and be mindful of millions of people not only in the Philippines who depend on these very important marine resources, “Perez said.
“We cannot allow China’s reclamation activities and tolerance of environmentally harmful fishing practices to continue as these endanger global food security and long-lasting biological diversity”. he explained.
Affected fishing municipalities and fishertalk ( to which some fishermen belonged to the groups sent away by the Chinese water cannon) are Pangasinan (Dasl 943, Infanta 314); Zambales (Subic 1,814, Masinlac 2528, Sta, Cruz 2544) Bataan (Mariveles 1845, Marong 1313, Bagac 926), and Palawan (Kalayaan 30), a total of 12,237.(PSciJourn MegaManila)