A team of marine experts has embarked on a 22-day scientific expedition to protect a rich coral, site including 17 marine protected areas in Southern Leyte.
Onboard the expedition ship MV Discovery Palawan, scientists and crew, headed by overall expedition coordinator and Oceana Philippines’ coral-rich marine protected areas campaign leader Marianne Saniano, started the new expedition to Panaon Island last October 16. Assisting Saniano are senior ban illegal fishing campaign leader Danny Ocampo and Dr. Badi Samaniego, who serves as the expedition’s assessment leader.
The team will be assessing corals, seagrass, and fish using scientific survey methods.
The science expedition in Southern Leyte comes after the successful and historic expedition to the Benham Bank in the Philippine Rise in 2016. In 2018, parts of the Philippine Rise undersea feature were declared marine resource reserve under a presidential proclamation.
“This time around, our sails are headed south with the shared goal of protecting one of the most important coral reefs in the country – Panaon Island,” Oceana vice president Gloria Estenzo Ramos said.
“Studies have shown continued decline in coral cover in the country. However, the coral reefs in this region remain to be some of the least disturbed habitats in the Philippines,” she pointed out.
The area is covered by the 50 Reefs Initiative of Bloomberg Philanthropies Agency and partners to create safeguards for 50 priority reefs in the region that are most resilient to the impacts of climate change and have the ability to help repopulate neighboring reefs over time.
Panaon Island is described as having high coral species diversity in a study done by Coral Cay Conservation.
“These accolades make Panaon Island’s coral reefs truly an underwater gem that deserves robust protection and recognition,” Ramos said.
During the early days of the expedition, the team initially observed “massive” foliose corals and “wide patch” of soft corals.
The expedition crew also noted that “though the site was not a (marine) sanctuary, it is already comparable to Tubbataha.”
“This will be an experience like no other where scientific data collection will be done while observing strict safety protocols and social distancing,” Ramos noted.
She assured that a strong and dedicated team onboard composed of scientists and crew are all committed to strengthening marine conservation efforts amid the pandemic.
“Protecting ecologically significant marine habitats remain paramount, if not more so, as we face the challenges and changes brought by the global pandemic, and fisheries, biodiversity and climate crises,” Ramos said.