5 reasons why you should care about Verde Island Passage

March 20, 2023 - 7:08 PM
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An aerial view shows the oil spill from the sunken fuel tanker MT Princess Empress on the shores of Pola, in Oriental Mindoro province, Philippines, March 8, 2023 (REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez)

Verde Island Passage, which is dubbed “the epicenter of marine biodiversity” is facing a grave threat as the oil spill is predicted to reach the strait. 

The University of the Philippines – Marine Science (UP-MSI) said on Saturday Institute the oil spill may soon reach the Verde Island Passage.

“It is critical to stop the seepage before the end of the Amihan season, otherwise more critical biodiversity areas along the Verde Island Passage may be affected,” UP-MSI said.

Following this forecast, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG)-Batangas station commander Captain Victorino Acosta on Monday morning said that the oil spill from the sunken motor tanker in Oriental Mindoro has hit Verde Island in Batangas. 

The PCG said that traces of oil spill was monitored in three coastal barangays in Verde Island, namely San Antonio, San Agustin, and San Agapito.

Just hours after Acosta’s statement, PCG on Monday afternoon said that Verde Island and vicinity waters “no longer have traces” of oil spill.

The PCG said that around 230 liters of oil were collected during the shoreline clean-up operations.

Amid oil spillage threat, experts and advocates have expressed alarm over how the oil spill could negatively impact the environment and other sectors, especially the “ecologically sensitive area” of Verde Island Passage. 

Here are the things that will be affected should the oil spill continue to creep into Verde Island Passage. 

Food supply 

The UP-MSI professor Irene Rodriguez said Verde Island Passage plays a vital role in food supply and livelihood of the community.  

“Karamihan po sa mga yamang-dagat natin sa Verde Island Passage ay napakaimportante na food source natin. So maapektuhan po ang livelihood ng mga maningisda at siyempre yung ating source ng food,” said Rodriguez. 

Annually, the strait produces about P12 billion from the fish catch alone, Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development Executive (CEED) Director Gerry Arances said in a televised interview

The faith-based group Protect VIP Lead Convenor and priest Edwin Gariguez, said “residents are also robbed of their seafood supply – a heavy blow for a province (Mindoro) in which over 50% of households already suffer various levels of food insecurity.”

“Not to mention that the fish that might end up in our tables might be unsafe for consumption and might lead to food poisoning,” he added. 

RELATED: Green group seeks urgent action on oil spill to protect Verde Island Passage

Livelihood

Protect VIP said that around 2 million fisherfolks and tourism industry workers are dependent on Verde Island Passage, which stretches in the provinces of Batangas, Marinduque, Occidental and Oriental Mindoro, and Romblon.

Gariguez said that the oil spill may exacerbate the living condition of fisherfolks in the area. 

“Potential fish kills due to the oil spill may cause lesser fish stock out of the already dwindling fish catch. The oil spill exacerbates the existing issues faced by our fisherfolks, who are among the poorest sector in the country,” he said. 

In Oriental Mindoro, 18,000 fishermen were ordered to put their activities on hold as the spill from the sunken MT Princess Empress had spread to the province’s southern towns.

RELATED: Oriental Mindoro oil spill leaves fishers short on cash and food

Marine Fauna 

Verde Island Passage has the highest concentration of marine shorefish biodiversity on the planet, marine scientist Kent Carpenter said. 

It is home to over 1,736 fish species within a 10-kilometer area, 338 coral species, and thousands of others. It likewise houses 60% of all known shorefish species in the world.

“Damage from the oil spill may affect biodiversity, including endemic species only found in the Philippines as well as species yet to be discovered, tourism revenues, and food security in the area,” the UP-MSI said.

Flora 

UP-MSI estimated that 9,900 hectares of mangroves and 6,000 hectares of seagrass in Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Mindoro, Palawan, and Antique could be harmed by the oil spill.

Mangroves have a critical role in marine wildlife as these trees serve as a spawning area. It also serves as a food source of certain animals.  

During storms and surges, mangroves serve as a natural protection of shorelines.

Like mangroves, sea grass serves as a habitat and food source for certain marine species. 

RELATED: What happens when oil enters mangrove environments?

Tourism 

Lead VIP also expects the tourism industry in the area to suffer because of the oil spill.

“Local tourism workers and provincial revenue are bound to suffer billions in losses with the oil spill occurring just as summer, in which tourist arrivals often peak, approaches,” Gariguez said.

In Oriental Mindoro alone in 2019, around P3.5 billion was earned from the tourism industry. 

The Department of Tourism has also earlier expressed concern about the “impact that the oil spill has had and can still have on our tourism destinations and our local communities.” 

As of March 18, there are 61 sites that are affected by the oil spill in Oriental Mindoro including several beach resorts.

Nearby tourist destinations such as Boracay in Malay, Aklan are already preparing for the possibility of the effects of the oil spillage reaching the island’s coastal area.

RELATED: DOT gravely concerned over oil spill’s impact on tourism workers, destinations

Apart from the oil spill, locals and environmental groups, as early as 2021 have expressed their concern about the environmental impact of the expansion of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals in Batangas.

RELATED: Locals, environmentalists renew call to protect Verde Island Passage from gas projects

These concerns were renewed as groups said that the expansion of LNG projects could increase the probability of another oil spill and exacerbate the threats faced by the marine corridor.

RELATED: Gas expansion around Verde Island Passage increases risk of another oil spill — groups