Reef fish and other marine species can breathe easier with the introduction of a fishing ban around Apo Reef, the largest coral reef in the Philippines and the second largest contiguous reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef.
Under the ban, all extractive activities, such as fishing, and coral collection and harvesting, will be completely forbidden.
“This ‘no-take’ zone will allow the reef and its residents ample time to recover from years of fishing,” stressed John Manul of WWF-Philippines.
The 27,469-hectare Apo Reef off the coast of Mindoro Island is surrounded by mangrove forest, which serves as a source of food, nursery and spawning ground of several coastal fish and marine species, including sharks, manta rays, sperm whales and several sea turtles.
In 1996, the reef was declared a national park, but enforcement proved lax and illegal fishing methods persisted.
The park was once one of the world’s premier diving destinations, but years of fishing — including by unsustainable fishing practices such as using dynamite and cyanide — took its toll.
“You would hear 25 to 30 dynamite blasts daily,” said Robert Duquil, a former protected area assistant superintendent. “The international diving community lost interest in the area and destructive activities prevailed.”
Adding to the reef’s troubles, the El Niño phenomenon in 1998 raised ocean temperatures, prompting a massive bleaching episode and the death of countless corals, and an explosion of coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.
“Unfortunately, Apo is plagued by millions of these starfish, probably due to a lack of natural predators like the giant triton, napoleon wrasse and harlequin shrimp,” said Gregg Yan of WWF-Philippines. “We hope that the ban will ensure protection of these predators and the many other reef species.”
WWF has been working towards sustainable coastal practices for the Apo Reef Natural Park since 2003. The marine park will be opened for tourists to help generate funds for its protection, as well as provide an alternative livelihood for hundreds of fishermen in the area.
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