Coral Reefs

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

AS MY contribution to the celebration of the Philippine Ocean Month this May, I’m writing this piece about corals. It is common knowledge that coral reefs are important to the ocean ecosystem because they provide habitat for marine animals. They are called the "rainforests of the sea".

But did you know that aside from providing shelter for many marine species, they also do other important roles? One such role is the protection of coastlines. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) said that a new study finds that coral reefs reduce the wave energy that would otherwise impact coastlines by 97 percent.

The study also reveals that the reef crest, or shallowest part of the reef where the waves break first, dissipates 86 percent of wave energy on its own. Thus it is better and cheaper to restore coral reefs than to build artificial breakwater. The median cost for building artificial breakwaters is $19,791 per meter, compared to $1,290 per meter for coral reef restoration projects.


Interestingly, the study reveals that the Philippines is one of the countries that will benefit most if coral reefs are conserved. In terms of number of people who receive risk reduction benefits from coral reefs, the top 15 countries include Indonesia, India, Philippines, China, Vietnam, Brazil, United States, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Singapore, Cuba, Hong Kong, Tanzania and Saudi Arabia.

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The Philippine coral reefs area is the second largest in Southeast Asia with an area of 26,000 square kilometers. On these reefs, there are 915 reef fish species and 400 coral species 12 of which are endemic, or can only be found in the Philippines.

One of our precious coral reefs is the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park. It is a 97,030-hectare Marine Protected Area in Palawan located 150km southeast of Puerto Princesa City. It is recognized as one of the most remarkable coral reefs on our planet. The park contains roughly 10,000 hectares of coral reef. In 1993, Tubbataha was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Our coral reefs really need conservation. According to a 1997 survey, only 4 percent of our coral reefs are in excellent condition. Around 28 percent are in good condition, 42 percent in fair condition and 27 percent in poor condition. The major causes of coral reef destruction are coastal development, destructive fishing methods like the use of dynamites, aquaculture and the cutting of mangroves.

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In the waters off the coast of northern Australia, there is a species of feathery coral that was found to be effective at blocking HIV infection of host cells. This is both good news and bad news. Good, because it will provide cure for HIV. Bad because uncontrolled harvesting of this feathery coral might lead to further coral reef destruction.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on May 23, 2014.


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