Philippine reefs (fwd)

Coral Health and Monitoring Program coral at
Fri Nov 22 08:12:40 EST 1996

---------- Forwarded message ---------- 
Date: Fri, 22 Nov 1996 10:49:38 +0800 
From: CEMRINO <cemrino at> 
Subject: Coralist: Philippine reefs 

Coralist Subscribers, 
    The recent message entitled "PHILIPPINES:  CORAL REEFS RAVAGED BY 
IMPOVERISHED FISHERS" presents a popular, and somewhat oversimplified 
picture of the problems with Philippine coral reefs.  A similar article 
appeared in the June 3, 1996 Asian edition of TIME, entitled "Reef 
Killers"  (p. 49).  They state that "But in the Philippines, which has 
33,000 sq km of reef, 90% of the coral is dead or deteriorated,..."  The 
popular decision among environmental groups that it is better to err on 
the side of spreading alarm, may deter scientists and dive tourists from 
finding out for themselves the state of the reefs, and thus providing an 
economic reason for their presevation (tourism).  Yes, blast fishing, 
cyanide use for aquarium fishes, cyanide fishing for the live food fish 
trade for Taiwan and Hong Kong, and other destructive fishing practices do 
go on in parts of the Philippines (See the excellent Nature T.V. program, 
"The Coral Triangle").  John McManus has termed the increasingly desperate 
fishermen's use of destructive fishing coupled with rapid human population 
growth as "Malthusian Overfishing"- see his extensive report on Bolinao, 
where blast fishing continues.  At the same time, I work in the middle of 
the Philippines, in the Province of Negros Oriental, where blast fishing 
was sucessfully eliminated 20 years ago, there is no cyanide fishing, 
there are currently about 20 marine preserves including the most 
successful marine reserve (Apo Island) in the Philippines.  Coral cover 
ranges up to 60% on some reefs, and fish populations are recovering toward 
high densities and sizes in the preserves.  In some areas, huge silt loads 
from land runoff may be increasing and present the greatest threat to the 
reefs.  An American company logged the ancient forests of the island I am 
on (Negros), reducing virgin forest from 46% to 6% from 1970 to 1990. 
Greg Hodgson conviced a logging company on Palawan that the economic 
losses to fishing and dive tourism from silt runoff far outweighed the 
profits from cutting an area of timber- he wrote an excellent report. 

     In most aspects of Philippine life there is no enforcement of the 
generally excellent and extensive set of laws, because taxes are collected 
only from wage earners- only about 5% of the total taxes due are collected 
(the wealthy largely escaping, typical of many poor countries), so there 
is no tax money for enforcement or all of the infrastructure needed for 
development.  The money is here, but it stays in the hands of the wealthy 
and powerful.  There are a wide variety of excellent aid projects here, 
including the Haribon Foundation working to eliminate cyanide fishing, a 
wide variety of German aid workers in my area funded by the European 
Union, Coral Cay Conservation, the Peace Corps, and many others.  A strong 
and traditional Catholic organization here discourages family planning, 
but President Ramos, who is Protestant, has a family planning program, as 
does the Province I am in.  The average number of children is down to 4 
per family- less in urban areas, more to many more among fisherfolk.  The 
race between food supply and human population is a very close race we are 
perilously close to loosing in the rural areas- the Philippines currently 
imports rice from Vietnam and India, among others.  There was a rice 
shortage last fall, and many children could not go to school because they 
didn't have enough to eat.  The press blamed "hoarders" and there seems to 
be no concern among the population that they are close to disaster.  The 
men in rural areas often spend extra earnings on gambling on cockfights or 
on liquor, the wealthy love to drive new cars costing about US$60,000- as 
they dodge potholes, diseased dogs, and children in rags.  Many common 
practices here do not speed development, though there are some very 
hopeful developments.  The general impression that all the reefs have been 
destroyed, though, is not true. 

     On a general level, the U.S. spends much less per capita on foreign 
development aid than many countries (even though the public thinks it is a 
large part of the budget, it is not), and frequently ties it to military 
sales or the purchase of goods for development from US suppliers.  The 
biggest chunk of US aid goes to Israel and Egypt.  Removing trade barriers 
to goods produced in developing countries would provide twice as much 
support as aid, and it would support usefull work instead of asking for 

    -personal opinions of Doug Fenner 
Centre for the Establishment of Marine Reserves in Negros Oriental 
109 San Jose Extension 
Dumaguete City 6200 
Negros Oriental 
Tel:  (+6 35) 225 3961 
Fax:  (+6 35) 225 5563 

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