The Verde Island Passage (VIP) — the world’s “center of center” of marine shorefish biodiversity — covers five provinces in the Philippines. Its biodiversity richness is comparable to the Amazon.
How are local industries relying on the economic and ecological resources in the area? Listen to PCIJ’s interview with Prof. Jayvee Saco, President of the Philippine Association of Marine Science (PAMS) and head of the VIP Center for Oceanographic Research and Aquatic Life Sciences (VIP-CORALS) research group.
Read the full transcript:
Cherry Salazar, PCIJ multimedia reporter: Hello, and welcome to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s “On the Record” podcast.
In this episode, we will be talking about the most biodiverse marine corridor in the world: the Verde Island Passage.
Home to thousands of fish species, coral species, and other marine organisms, including endemic nudibranchs or sea slugs, the VIP contains the highest concentration of marine life per unit area — much like the Amazon!
That is why the VIP is also known as the “Amazon of the Oceans.”
To find out more about the VIP, PCIJ spoke with Batangas State University professor Jayvee Saco, who is also the president of the Philippine Association of Marine Science (PAMS). Professor Saco also heads the VIP Center for Oceanographic Research and Aquatic Life Sciences, or VIP-CORALS.
Here are excerpts from our interview.
Prof. Jayvee Saco, Batangas State University: This is very monumental na research by Carpenter and Springer. They considered VIP the world’s center of the center of marine shorefish biodiversity. This is based on ano, ha, global fisheries data through time. As in, ha, through time.
So dito ‘yung naging pinaka-main concentration ng marine shorefish sa buong mundo. Ano ‘yung pinaka-key important habitat of these marine shorefish dito sa VIP, ‘no? So syempre nandyan ‘yung mangrove ecosystems, sea grass and seaweed ecosystems, and even the coral reef.
‘Yung sakop na provinces ng VIP is five provinces, ‘no. We have Batangas, Marinduque, Occidental and Oriental Mindoro, and Romblon. Ang Batangas is the one facing talaga all the coastal municipalities in VIP, ‘no. So talagang malaki. Malaki ang sakop niya.
Major playground ang VIP in terms of, first, is ‘yung transportation. As you know, nandito sa Batangas ‘yung Batangas International Port, ‘no. So lahat ng maritime transportation, dito nanggagaling and even ‘yung paglo-load ng ibang industry, like ‘yung sasakyan and even petroleum.
Tourism, number one din siya because, since very attractive and branding ng VIP, because ang ating mga isda sa coral reef and napakaganda ng kulay ng mga coral reef.
Those are economical services. But ‘yung pinakamagandang tingnan is ‘yung ecological services na pino-provide ng VIP, ‘no.
Mangroves, seaweeds, sea grass, and corals provide a lot of ecological services. They are shelter, ‘no, and even nursing ground to other marine organisms. So without this ecosystem, wala tayong kakainin. Walang isda, walang hipon, walang crabs, walang seaweed na kinakain, ‘no. So aside from the food that this ecosystem provides, ‘no, ano pa ‘yung makukuha natin dito? So there’s a lot of potential for bioactive compounds. Ika nga, natural products, ‘no. And one of [the] examples na ginagamit na natin for pharmaceutical is ‘yung na-discover ni Dr. Lourdes Cruz, which is one of the national scientists in the Philippines: ‘yung Conus snail.
So there’s a compound in the Conus na ginagamit for painkiller. And the Philippines already, I mean the world, is actually using that technology.
Aside from that, syempre, this ecosystem provide barriers for natural calamities. For example, storm surges, erosion.
Bukod dun, maraming business. For example, Batangas is one of [the] sites for seaweed farming, specifically Kappaphycus and Eucheuma. These are red seaweeds, ‘no. Why is it important? Because we extract carrageenan from this organism. Ano ‘yung importansya ng carrageenan? Sa lahat ng nakikita mo, present ang carrageenan. Did you know that carrageenan is present in ice cream? In your toothpaste, and even in your cosmetic, and even in your lotion? Also in our battery? May carrageenan ‘yan because it’s a good conductor of electricity.
Ano pa ‘yung on the business part, ‘no? Syempre yung pangisdaan, ‘no. But unfortunately, ‘yung reality ngayon talaga is konti na lang ang huli ng pangisdaan because of posible din na factor ‘yung pagbago ng klima natin. And even ‘yung habitat change, ‘no. And actually nakikita na natin siya because ‘yung ibang lugar, kino-convert into other purpose, ‘no, for residential and even for industrial.
Siguro ‘yung ibang tao, ang sasabihin, ang lawak naman ng VIP, why are they concentrating or blaming others that they’re putting industrial zone here, ‘no? Yes, malawak nga siya, but the greatest vulnerability among marine ecosystems are coastal areas, ‘no. Once mabago ‘yung topograpiya ng isang area, mababago na rin ‘yung hydrodynamics. Maiiba na rin ‘yung galaw ng alon, galaw ng current sa ilalim. And once you’ve changed [the] coastal ecosystem, that will have an escalating effect sa open water and even sa deep water, ‘no. So whatever you’re doing in the coastal area will have a mayor effect on open water, ‘no.
Putting up a prominent structure in the area will greatly affect the whole ecosystem per se, ‘no. So, for example, naglagay ng isang port seaward. So pansin ng mga taong nandun, bakit ‘yung concentration ng sand is nandito sa kabilang side? Because dine-deflect na nito ‘yung supposedly na dapat kung wala itong blockage, normal ‘yung daloy ng tubig. So ang tendency, lahat na ng deposit ng sand, nandito na sa kabila. So what if nandun ‘yung mataas na concentration ng coral reef? So pinatay mo na siya because of the sedimentation. So that’s one example of disruptive hydrodynamics.
Sometimes ‘yung perspective natin, parang “Less concerned kami dyan because we’re not seeing it.” But in reality, you’re harming the environment [by] only putting that seaport.
You can balance the ecosystem and, of course, economics, ‘no. It’s just a matter of siguro political will din. ‘Wag lang puro social responsibility na walang sustainability.
It’s always a balance of everything. But if you compromise [the] environment, that will be something different. Baka ‘di na makita ng mga anak natin or apo natin ‘yung mga organism na nasa dagat.
Cherry Salazar, PCIJ multimedia reporter: That was Batangas State University professor Jayvee Saco.
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This has been Cherry Salazar. Thank you for listening.
— PCIJ, March 2023