The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the governors of the five provinces surrounding the Verde Island Passage (VIP) in the Philippines are urging the legal declaration of the “Amazon of the Seas” as a protected area.
The Verde Island Passage is known as the “center of the center” of the world’s marine shore fish biodiversity and is home to more than 300 coral species, 170 fish species, and thousands of marine organisms. The marine corridor also provides livelihoods and other benefits to over two million people.
During a meeting on April 25 between DENR Secretary Antonia Loyzaga and Governors Hermilando Mandanas of Batangas and Presbitero Velasco Jr. of Marinduque, they discussed the threat to the VIP from the recent oil spill. They agreed to call for the VIP to be declared as a protected area by law to ensure its ecosystem is preserved.
“That will involve five provinces moving together to get this whole area legislated,” Loysaga said. “Why is it important? Critical reefs, critical seagrass beds, mangroves, fisheries, these are spawning areas for fish, livelihood is dependent on that, and it has an implication on climate change as well.”
Currently, the VIP is a marine protected area, but the governors want it to have the highest level of protection through legislation. The DENR is committed to strengthening the protection and management of the VIP as a priority conservation area.
The VIP is not only important for its marine biodiversity but also for its role in economic development. It is a thriving coastal tourism destination, a fishing ground, and a shipping route to international ports.
However, it is threatened by illegal and destructive fishing practices, pollution, unsustainable land use, and irresponsible tourism. Climate change is also a concern, as it could lead to the loss and damage of key infrastructure and local food security.
During the meeting, the DENR also discussed the development of a VIP-wide Disaster Prevention and Response Plan and explored options for claims from international oil spill contingency funds. They will convene the interim Protected Area Management Board for the legislation of VIP as a protected area.
The protection of the VIP is crucial for the continued survival of marine species and the livelihoods of over two million people who depend on this globally significant strait.