August 21, 2018
The Ecosystems Research & Devt Bureau (ERDB) has asked LGUs to demarcate “no fishing” zones in “coral bleached” Snake Island, Palawan to help replenish depleting fish inventory in what is also a tourist haven.
The government closed in 2012 from the public the Snake Island found in a cluster of islands around top tourist destination El Nido, Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
While a rehabilitation program has shown initial success, ERDB’s monitoring team still finds reason to advise a fishing ban in identified areas to save the coral reefs in the fringing and winding 7.5 hectare island.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) ordered a closure of Snake Island after finding evidences of coral bleaching– turning to white of corals as these lose the greenish-brownish color of organisms called Zooxanthallae of the Alveolata group that reside in coral surfaces.
These photosynthetic organisms are destroyed as a result of global warming (increase in temperature of oceans, sea level rise, acidification), overfishing, and use of destructive fishing such as of dynamites.
After the 2012 closure, a 2016 review of DENR-ERDB discovered that significant portions of the reef have started to provide spaces for settlement of young coral colonies.
However, some parts have been found to have high algal cover (algal bloom) which is known to hinder the recovery of affected corals.
Algal-feeding fish such as the parrotfishes, siganids, acanthurids, and wrasses among others were observed. But they must be constantly protected from fishing to increase their meager numbers
Rapid succession of algae on reef structures might be caused by the reduced population of herbivorous or plant-eating fish species coupled with influx of excess nutrients from nearby tributaries, according to Jose Isidro Michael Padin, ERDB Supervising Science Research Specialist,
The assessment found out that exhaustive fishing in the area resulted to the decline of algae-feeding fish, leaving no natural control measure for the increasing algal bloom.
Delineating no fishing zones in the island will help coral reef rehabilitation.
According to the ERDB Director Dr. Sofio B. Quintana, “In order to protect the Island and to help in the recovery of the corals in the area, there is a need to delineate areas for fishing and non-fishing. This will allow the coral reefs to recover”.
Padin explained that ERDB’s effort to restore corals in Snake Island is worth it.
“Hard corals can survive a bleaching event and return to their normal state unless the unfavorable conditions continue for a prolonged period of time,” he said.
Another factor which can hinder the recovery of the coral reef is the growing population of sea stars (Acanthaster planci, Linnaeus, 1758).
These sea stars belong to a species which feed on healthy coral polyps leading to the bleaching of some Acroporid corals. The outbreak of sea stars may be caused by increased nutrients in the water or the removal of its predators, or both.
The ERDB research team is continuously monitoring its population and is looking at the possibility of resorting to necessary control methods such as manual removal or induced death.
Preliminary findings of the ERDB team have been presented last January 10-11, 2018 to concerned stakeholders which include the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), DENR-CENRO Puerto Princesa City, DENR-PENRO Palawan, Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), Puerto Princesa City Tourism Office, and the Puerto Princesa City Environment and Natural Resource Office (City ENRO).
Among the solutions discussed were science-based coral transplantation, restocking of herbivorous fingerlings and the continuous monitoring of water and other marine resources of the island.
A fishing moratorium to increase fish population in Snake Island has also been up for discussion. This is also seen as a long-term solution for the reported decline of fish stocks in Honda Bay.
Quintana assures that ERDB will continue to provide science-based information which will help in protecting the natural beauty of Snake Island.
Snake Island had been among the most popular tourist spots in El Nido due to its S-shaped sand bar where adventurers walk on low tide and appearing to “walk on water.” The sand bar connects Snake Island from other islands in Palawan.
Ninety percent of the corals in three sites in Snake Island had earlier been found to be affected by coral bleaching
Snake Island has been envisioned to become an exhibition area for three ecosystems— coral reef, sea grass beds (from monocotyledon plant group of grasses, lilies and palms that form underwater meadows) and mangroves.
With DENR’s rehabilitation, the Snake Island has been replanted with 17 hectares of nine species of mangroves.
Fishery stocks including caesionid (dalagang bukid) and jacks (talakitok) have been restored as surface fishes and groupers (lapu-lapu), acanthurids (labahita), siganids (danggit) and damsel fish (palata) as bottom dwellers.
The rehabilitation of Snake Island is part of a larger program of DENR to restore health of natural resources in degraded ecotourism sites including the entire El Nido. DENR also just ordered last April closure of almost 80 establishments in El Nido violating the 30-meter “no store” area from shoreline policy. (Growth Publishing for ERDB) End