Coral restoration could take years, says UP marine expert


Posted at Sep 21 2023 11:04 AM

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MANILA — The restoration of corals destroyed by Chinese vessels could take years, a marine expert said Thursday, after the government uncovered apparent damage to the marine environment and coral reefs in the Rozul (Iroquious) Reef and Escoda Shoal seabed in the West Philippine Sea.

Vanessa Baria-Rodriguez, associate professor at the University of the Philippine Marine Science Institute, told ANC that a "totally dead reef" would achieve natural recovery after "several decades." 

But, she said, restoration efforts would shorten the recovery time. 

"We still have to check what are the species there because… different species of corals have different growth [rates] so basically it will take long years for you to recover," Baria-Rodriguez added.

Extensive underwater surveys conducted by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) confirmed earlier reports by the military of a significant loss of marine life in the said areas.

"The results of these surveys showed that the marine ecosystem in the subject West Philippine Sea features appeared lifeless, with minimal to no signs of life," the PCG said in a statement.

Crushed corals found indicate a potential act of dumping, possibly involving the same dead corals that were previously processed and cleaned before being returned to the seabed, the PCG said.

The PCG conducted the surveys at Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal between August and early September, when it monitored at least 40 vessels of the Chinese maritime militia at those features.

Baria-Rodriguez said that while ship grounding could have caused the devastation, she noted that damage would depend on the size of the ship and the area. "That can be measured but at the moment we don't have data yet."

Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG-West Philippine Sea spokesperson, said in a statement that surveys in Escoda Shoal which showed "visible discoloration of its seabed" could indicate that "deliberate activities" might have been done to modify its natural underwater topography.

The PCG meanwhile said that the continued swarming of Chinese militia vessels "may have directly caused the degradation and destruction" of the West Philippine Sea features.

But when asked about whether or not the destruction was intentional, Baria-Rodriguez said it still needs to be validated.

Still, she warned that losing coral reefs would result in the "depletion of cultural fishery resources like fishes and other organisms that are commercially important."

"Harvesting corals is illegal according to our fishery code," she added.