Saving the Coral Triangle

Date May 21, 2009

Acting by itself and in concert with five other countries, the Philippine government has taken a giant step toward saving the Coral Triangle, considered the world’s richest underwater wilderness, that covers 1.6 million square kilometers of water bounded by six countries.

Biodiversity and food resources were the subjects of the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs and Food Security Summit in Menado, Indonesia, on May 15. President Gloria Arroyo attended the global meet where she signed a wide-ranging agreement with the heads of government of Indonesia, Malaysia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

Home to half of the world’s coral reefs in an area half the size of the United States, the Triangle’s ecosystems are facing ruin from a combination of climate change, overfishing and pollution. The region is a critical source of food and jobs for millions of Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders and a huge nursery for maritime life from turtles to tuna.

President Arroyo told the summit that the Philippines had taken earlier initiatives to help save the Triangle, including executive orders to manage coastal resources and moderate the causes of climate change. The national budget allocates money to support conservation and research. More has to be done, she said, as she urged the six governments to “carry the message of Menado” to the United Nations and the major industrialized nations.

In the Philippine Senate and other forums, Sen. Loren Legarda has asked the Coral Triangle countries to arrest the impact of climate change on coral reefs and coastal resources. “It will be a tragedy for the human race if we lose these coastal resources to weather warming and human irresponsibility,” she warned.

Legarda, the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Climate Change, has been appointed Asia-Pacific Regional Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction by a UN agency on disaster abatement.

The Coral Triangle Initiative proposes to expand maritime sanctuaries and no-fishing zones. It calls for stronger global cooperation to fight illegal fishing and environmental destruction. The littoral countries agreed to expand protected ocean reserves by millions of hectares and establish joint strategies for identifying key ecosystems and species for conservation. The agreement also bans fishing from 20 percent of each major coastal habitat in the region, such as coral reefs, mangrove forests and sea grass areas.

President Arroyo asked the Triangle nations to develop a strong economy in the region to provide full employment “and maintain the sacred relationship of human beings to Mother Earth.” With a robust economy, the inhabitants would have a stronger incentive to improve ecology and optimize food production.

Climate change is the major culprit in Sen. Legarda’s view. In the Philippines setting, she said, the disaster resulting from climate change will compound dynamite fishing, trawling and overfishing. To beat the impact of weather warming, she urged climate change adoption measures and disaster risk reduction strategies under an integrated framework. With the Executive and Congress working together on the Coral Triangle predicament, we should be able to enlarge our contribution to saving this home to some 3,000 species of fish for future generations.

Thursday, May 21, 2009
The Manila Times

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