Bingkai Karya – In mid-September, life seemed to be returning to normal for the fishermen of Verde Island Passage (VIP) in the Philippines after an oil spill earlier in the year disrupted their communities. However, experts warn that the ecological effects of the spill may persist, urging the need for long-term protection of this vital marine ecosystem.
On February 28, the MT Princess Empress oil tanker sank in the VIP, releasing 900,000 liters of industrial fuel oil. The spill affected coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass in four provinces, causing widespread environmental and economic damage. Cleanup efforts, which concluded in June, involved specialized vessels and mobilized local authorities, but the incident resulted in significant financial losses and challenges for affected communities.
Fisherfolk, heavily dependent on the VIP’s rich marine life, faced fishing bans that curtailed their incomes for up to five months. The spill’s immediate socioeconomic effects included disruptions to livelihoods, mental health, health, education, tourism, culture, and recreation. Fisherfolk in Oriental Mindoro, the spill’s epicenter, found it challenging to sustain their families’ daily needs due to the prohibitions on fishing.
Despite the cleanup efforts, scientists and environmental experts warn that the spill’s long-term effects could linger. The contamination of coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass poses a threat to the ecosystem’s overall health and the survival of marine species. The deterioration of habitat quality and disruption of ecosystem goods and services may unfold gradually, necessitating ongoing monitoring.
The VIP, known as the world’s “center of marine shore fish biodiversity,” is already vulnerable to various threats, including maritime disasters, harmful fishing activities, pollution, tourism practices, and climate change-induced coral bleaching. Advocates, including the Philippines’ environment secretary and the five provinces hosting the VIP, are urging legislation to declare the entire passage a protected seascape. A Senate bill proposing this designation is pending, emphasizing the need for a unified framework to safeguard the VIP’s marine habitats and resources.
Stung by the impact of the spill, fishermen have joined calls to protect the VIP. The incident serves as a wake-up call to address the long-standing neglect of this ecologically and socioeconomically significant region. Communities, fishermen, and advocates are rallying together under initiatives like “Protect Verde Island Passage,” emphasizing the importance of taking care of their waters as a fundamental part of their way of life.
Verde Island Passage is at a critical juncture, recovering from the aftermath of an oil spill and facing ongoing threats to its ecological balance. The call for legislative protection reflects a collective effort to ensure the sustained well-being of this marine treasure, emphasizing the importance of responsible environmental stewardship and the preservation of the unique biodiversity that defines the VIP.