New estimate shows destroyed coral reefs 5X size of MM

By Ira Pedrasa,

Posted at May 28 2011 10:48 AM | Updated as of May 29 2011 02:17 AM

Local officials may be involved - Zubiri

MANILA, Philippines - The destruction of the country’s coral reefs is now a cause of national security concern with the damaged area larger than what was initially estimated.

In an interview with ANC’s "Rundown", Dr. Theresa Mundita Lim said recent data from the California Academy of Sciences showed that a reef area five times the size of Metro Manila has been destroyed recently by smugglers and poachers.

“It’s worse than what we initially thought,” said Lim, director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Customs officials intercepted early this month some P35 million worth of illicit shipment, which came off the coast of Cotabato. Initial estimates show that poachers destroyed almost twice the size of Metro Manila to be able to harvest 196 kilos of sea whips corals, 161 heads of preserved hawksbill and green turtles, 7,300 pieces of seashells and 21,169 pieces of black corals.

Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri said this is now a “national security concern, not only because it has affected our ecotourism. We’re losing out to Malaysia, Thailand…It has also affected our ability to feed our people.”

He said the fishing industry and fishermen would note they would have to go farther into the sea to catch fish for consumers.

Corruption involved?

Zubiri, who is chairman of the Senate committee on environment and natural resources, said he will call for an investigation on the matter on Monday during a privilege speech.

He alleged local government units could probably be involved in corruption for their lackluster attempt to stop the destruction of the reefs. “The container vans came from localities…It’s impossible that these people could not have seen these poachers,” he added.

He said local government officials will be invited, “with a threat of a subpoena”, if they refuse to appear.

Zubiri is also calling on the national government to allot a bigger budget for wildlife protection, not just from the coffers of the DENR. Not one administration has given this importance, he added.

He, however, commended the Aquino government for releasing a stronger statement and enjoining the international community to support the cause. Malacañang earlier called on consumers, including the international market, to boycott black coral products.

“We should get the international community to stop the trade…We should get the other countries to ban the products so that the harvesting of black corals will stop,” Zubiri said.