Coral reefs are one of the most complete ecosystems on the earth. They sustain everything, beginning from the microorganisms and plants that feed upwards of the food chain, channeling toward the apex predators, in this case mostly sharks. Being as densely populated as they are, both in number and in specific species, coral reefs are so important in keeping balance in the Ocean’s general health.

Unfortunately, overfishing, destructive fishing practices, climate change, and pollution have all but shut down a vast majority of coral reefs around the world, and the Philippines is not excluded from the list. In 2011, research out of the University of the Philippines showed that only about 5% (~1,000km2) of the country’s reef (19,000-27,000km2) remains in good condition, making the reefs around the Philippines in dire need of help.

Thankfully, in recent years, a few marine sanctuaries have popped up to try and regain the balance, and specifically monitor the health, of these ever-so-important ecosystems; time to discuss a few.

Visayas – Danajon Bank

Image: divescotty.com

One of only six documented double coral reefs in the world (and the only one in the Philippines), this natural phenomenon is the centre of biodiversity in the Pacific Ocean, and over half a million Filipinos call the cities and villages around it home. The proximity means they are heavily dependent on the reef and the life it sustains for food, which has put a tremendous strain on this exceedingly fragile and important ecosystem, due to human interferences like overfishing, destructive fishing practices, and pollution, among others.

Project Seahorse | The International League of Conservation Photographers

Image: Claudio Contreras Koob/iLCP

This Canadian, scientist-driven NGO has teamed up with a super-team of international conservationist photographers to document not only the importance, but the current ongoing destruction of this wonderful double reef habitat.

The aim? To show that while it is important to eat and sustain communities, it is much more important to keep biodiversity going, along with the preservation of habitats.

It has been wildly successful in spreading awareness so far, but the decades of decaying destruction done to the reef will take much more than awareness to rectify, so be sure to read up, and get involved!

Mimaropa/Luzon – Tubbataha Reef

Image: David Doubilet, National Geographic

These days, Palawan is filled with visitors from all around the country, and all around the world, and it has developed so fast as a tourist attraction that the rest of the country is still trying to catch up. In the 1970s the Tubbataha Reefs, just off the coast of Palawan, was home to unpredictable, and sometimes harsh, weather, hence protecting it from fishermen. In the 1980s, however, boats had been fitted with motors, and as fish stocks declined elsewhere, they started looking to these waters for more fish to fuel their income. Dynamites and cyanide were brought in, bringing entire ecosystems to their collective knees, and the reef was very close to a spectacular collapse.

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park

Image: Jennifer Hayes, National Geographic

In December 1993, UNESCO named the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park a World Heritage Site, garnering the 97,030 hectare reef international attention, and subsequent protection. Today, you can visit the reef and dive there, through permitted instructors, but fishing and extracting of marine life is still largely, and thankfully, illegal. It is because of this protection that in 2010, when El Nino was at its worst and affected 95% of all corals in the Philippines, Tubbataha only experienced a combined 1% decline in coral cover, as it only had to recover from the one major stress, and not all the others brought about by human pressure.

2009 saw the extension of its World Heritage Site status, allowing it to continue being wildly successful. However, it can only happen due to the efforts of the people involved, so do one of two things, either head over to Palawan and book a diving trip from there (park entrance fee is approximately 3000PHP, all of it goes to the conservation of the park and the ones who protect it), or read up and get involved (volunteer/donate)!

Mimaropa – Apo Reef

Image: Facebook/ePhilippinesAdventureTravel

Apo Reef is the world’s second largest contiguous coral reef system, only behind Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Its tremendous length is home to over 350 individual species of marine fauna, making it a very popular dive site. Unfortunately, the shallow waters in large parts of the reef made many of the underwater flora and fauna very susceptible to human interference, thus seeing numbers sharply decline as fishing picked up in the area.

Apo Reef Natural Park

Image: diveUNDA.com

In 1996, then-president Fidel Ramos declared the entire reef a natural park, but it took until 2007 for the Philippine government to ban fishing in the area altogether. Fortunately, life sprang back with a vengeance from there, and the unique structure of the reef, accompanied by the abundance of marine life, has put Apo Reef on the world map as one of the best dive sites. The marine park is now open to tourists to help generate funds, not only for its protection, but to allow the ex-fishermen of the area an alternate source of income.

Fees are listed here.

Mindanao – Aundanao Fish Sanctuary

Images: Alex Tabat | Facebook/LKCantila

Situated a little off the Island Garden City of Samal, this group of reefs were depleted heavily, despite being a sanctuary early on, due to illegal fishing and extracting of marine resources. These days, however, the local government have put in place laws to protect against illegal fishing and have allowed tourists to come in place of the fishermen, to drive income to the local communities, and fishermen out of the protected waters.

Sadly, not much more is known about this particular sanctuary. However, there is no better way to learn and find out for yourself, so the next time you are in Mindanao, head over to Samal and see if they need any help!

Coral reefs sit at under 0.1% of all the world’s land mass, and yet they hold approximately 25% of the world’s species, making them invaluable to the biodiversity and general health of the planet, and that is why the importance of these stunning, individual ecosystems must not be overshadowed by short term gain – money. The Philippines is sat atop the famous ‘Coral Triangle’, which holds 76% of all known species of coral and 37% of the world’s total coral fish, and needs a lot of help, particularly from the devastating effects of man.

Please do not make the same mistakes of the predecessors, as information is now widely available on not just the importance of protecting the reefs, but also the ways to get yourself involved. Reach out and help when you can, because it will take a tremendous, collective effort to fix what is so close to the verge of breaking down.

Save the reefs!