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As destructive fishing declines, pollution and other threats to PHL coral reefs rise

CAIRNS, Australia – In the last ten years, blast fishing and other destructive practices have gone down by half in the Philippines, good news for the country’s degraded coral reefs, according to a new report released Saturday.
The bad news, however, is that sedimentation due to human activities has surpassed it as a major threat to marine resources, posing a serious problem for fishers who comprise the poorest segment of the population, the report said.
Worse, the percentage of coral reefs deemed to be in “poor” condition rose from 33 per cent in the 1980s to 40 per cent in the most recent estimates, said Theresa Mundita Lim, director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau.
Coral reefs that are in ‘excellent’ condition was also further reduced to one per cent, reported Lim, from the already dismal statistics of five per cent in the 1980s.
“Sorry, I’m going to cry,” quipped Lim, who made the presentation for the Philippines at the launching of the State of the Coral Triangle Report in Cairns, Australia.
The Philippines is one of the six members of the Coral Triangle Initiative, or CTI, a multi-country project that aims to conserve resources in what is considered the richest and most ecologically diverse marine region in the world.
Other members of the group are Indonesia, Malaysia, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands.
In contrast to the Philippines, Indonesia reported that more than one-fourth of its coral reefs are in good condition while five per cent are in excellent condition. The much larger archipelagic country also has a lower 30 per cent of coral reefs in poor condition compared to the Philippines.
“Our coral reefs are improving,” said Dirhamsyah, who represented his country’s CTI team.
Indonesia rivals the Philippines in terms of diversity of corals and fishes, with both countries reporting more than 500 species of corals and over 3,000 species of fish.
From Central Philippines to Tubbataha
Overfishing remained the major threat to coral reefs in the Philippines this year, but pollution from various sources is also growing at an alarming rate.
“These include inappropriate land use practices, irresponsible mining practices, deforestation or illegal logging activities, improper waste disposal, etc. There was also considerable growth in coastal development manifested by the increase in coastal populations, built-up areas, and urbanization,” according to the report.
The decline in destructive fishing was attributed to stricter law enforcement, especially in coastal areas that have set up marine protected areas (MPAs), said Lim.
She said recent trends indicate that the center of marine biodiversity in the country has shifted from the central Philippines, where local populations have decimated much of their resources, to the remote Tubbataha Reefs in the center of the Sulu Sea.
“This is because of legal protection and the cooperation of local government units,” said Lim.
Located within the municipality of Cagayancillo in Palawan, the Tubbataha Reefs was declared the country’s first national marine park in 1988 and subsequently proclaimed a World Heritage Site five years later. 
Navy and Coast Guard personnel have been protecting the park along with civilian rangers since the mid-1990s, with the assistance of non-government organizations and funds coming from the provincial government and entrance fees. — DVM, GMA News