The Philippines' Coastal Reefs

Bay of Plenty

Fisherman living in Napantao village, on Leyte Bay

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Life in the village remains relatively unchanged in the year leading up to the turn of the 20th century. Advancements in fishing technology have made slow ingresses to the villagers, but fish are harvested mostly as they have been for hundreds of years by single fisherman on small self-propelled vessels. We supplement our income occasionally by diving for pearls in the reef, but most of our immediate needs are taken care of through the bouty of fish which call the coral reef home.

Convict tangs (Acanthurus triostegus)

A Shift in the Winds

Grandson of the fisherman

The reef still provides for the inhabitants of the bay, but in a way markedly different from the time of my father or grandfather.

It is now not enough to simply take a canoe out into the bay and fish for our dinner; a man needs to earn a living with cash. Especially when there are not many fish left. The rising temperature has killed the coral which was essential fish habitat.

Many of the young people in my village have left for Manila or other large cities to find employment, but some young men do remain. Most either work for a captain on a larger fishing vessel, or in the tourism sector, taking out tourists for dives along the reef.

Triangular coral

Water Acidification Kills Coral Reefs

Grandson of the fisherman

Warmer and more acidic oceans kill the coral, in addition to other climate-related factors such as stronger typhoons and El Niño.

This coral reef hosts an astonishing array of biodiversity, and supports an incredible amount of ecosystem services locally, regionally, and globally. It really is a shame that this has all been mortgaged for short term economic gain. Tourists love to see the fish who live in and around the reef. The trophic chain is far from healthy. Most large predator species cannot be supported because of over exploited fish stocks. The warming and acidifying waters of the bay also reduce the resilience of the ecosystem to any and all shocks, not just overfishing.

Threat to Coral Reefs, red represents high threats to coral
Bleached Staghorn Coral

New Opportunities from Reef Conservation

Great grandson of the original fisherman

Interest from conservation organizations has really changed the way that the villagers see our relationship with the reef.

Years of overfishing combined with worsening climatic conditions have lead to a steady decline in the health of our reef. In order to ensure its survival, as well as our own, many people are now taking an active role in its wellbeing. I was trained by a local NGO to dive in and around the reef, and assist research and conservation efforts using the same skills that my father and his father before him used to support their livelihood in the bay.

Jump starting coral reef restoration