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Only 4 percent of PHL coral reefs in excellent health —DENR

Most of the country's coral reefs are in dire condition, putting the Philippines' food security at risk, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) officials said on Tuesday.
Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau director Mundita Lim said only 4% of the country’s coral reefs, estimated at 26,000 square kilometers, are in “excellent condition.”
“The rest are candidates for restoration,” she said in a forum at the United Nations Environment Programme’s Land-Ocean Connection Conference.
Of the 800 coral species in the world, 500 can be found in the Philippines, making its seas one of the most diverse in the world. But Philippine coral reefs have deteriorated over the years because of over-exploitation, illegal fishing practices, marine pollution, and rising ocean temperature and acidification. 
“Our coasts and seas have suffered heavy degradation wrought by over half a century of destructive practices,” Lim during her presentation.
“The World Resource Institute released a study only this year that the Philippines is one of the nine countries in the world with high to very high exposure to coral reef threats, but low to medium adaptive capacity,” she added.
Lim said the DENR and the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute are studying areas that will be prioritized for rehabilitation.
 Coral reefs are considered underwater forests because of their complex ecosystem that supports a huge amount of wildlife. They are also carbon sinks and a major mitigator of climate change.
For 2012, Lim said the DENR will rehabilitate 5 hectares of coral reefs. In 2013, it will be increased to 200 hectares.
The Philippines would also be increasing its marine protected areas, which is cost-effective way of protecting coral reefs and marine life. This would ensure that communities would have a hand in protecting the ecosystem, which is also the source of their livelihood.
At present, most of the funding for coral reef preservation comes from the private sector. What the government can do is to provide scientific and technical help to the private sector conservationists, Lim said.
UN and DENR officials said the Philippines and other countries should make sure that the impact of their land-based activities on marine life is reduced to save the world's oceans.
UNEP Director on Environmental Policy Ibrahim Thiaw  has warned of exploding marine litter from cities, fertilizers, tourism and industrial activities.
He noted that dead zones are increasing in Asia. Dead zones refer to areas in the oceans where algal blooms, stimulated by fertilizers and sewage, consume all of the oxygen in the water, choking the life out of these areas.
Over 240,000 sq km of estuaries and shelf areas and some of the most productive waters are affected by this threat
Thiaw noted that dead zones in the developing world poses huge economic losses for countries dependent on marine resources.
Nations need to reverse the degradation of the world's oceans as billions of people depend on it for livelihood and food, Thiaw said.
According to a UN presentation yesterday, healthy reefs can produce up to 35 tons of fish per square kilometers.
In the Philippines, the seas supply more than 80% of the animal protein of the Filipino public, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said. More than 60% of the country's 96 million population live near the coast, he added.
The Bohol Coral Triangle, a major fishing ground, generates $3.4 million of revenues from fishing activities annually, the UN said. The reefs also attract tourists, another income generator for the province.
The effects of deteriorating ocean life is already felt in the Philippines.
The Department of Agriculture said the country’s commercial and municipal fish production declined last year by 16.3% and 2.9%, respectively.
The DA acknowledged that there has been a reduction in certain fish species, forcing them to impose closed fishing season in major spawning and fishing grounds.
Aside from the land-ocean connection conference, the first of its kind, the UNEP is also conducting a high-level Third Intergovernmental Review Meeting (IGR3) on the Implementation of the Global Programme of Action (GPA) for the Protection of the Marine Environmen in Manila.
The GPA will craft a response to the threats against the world's oceans, Thiaw said.
Around 500 participants, 200 of whom from different countries around the world, are expected to attend the twin events organized by the UNEP.
The participants will include representatives from over 70 governments, as well as scientists and marine experts.
At the end of the meeting on Friday, a non-legally binding document that will guide countries on how to protect their seas and coasts, will be called the Manila Declaration.
It will be one of the inputs in the UN Rio + 20 Conference on Sustainable Development in June. — TJD, GMA News