Experts investigate oil spill’s effects on coral habitat

A team of experts from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and its partner agencies has been monitoring the extent of oil contamination through coral habitat oiling assessments in various marine protected areas (MPAs) in Oriental Mindoro.

The recent sinking of MT Princess Empress has resulted in oil slicks and sheens spreading across the marine waters of Oriental Mindoro, posing a threat to the biodiversity of nearby MPAs and fishing grounds, and impacting the livelihood of local fisherfolk.

The Incident Management Team in Oriental Mindoro has highlighted that oil spills can be detrimental to corals as they block access to sunlight and oxygen when attached. The toxic chemicals present in the oil can disrupt coral growth and reproduction, while also altering the physicochemical properties of the water, such as temperature, pH, and other parameters.

On May 1, marine science technicians from the PCG, along with the Coast Guard Special Operations Group, Provincial Agriculturist Office, Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office, and Bantay Dagat, conducted a pre-survey coral assessment at the Calero MPA in Calapan.

Another assessment was carried on May 3 out at Harka Piloto Island, a 37-hectare MPA located approximately 1.5 kilometers off the coast of Barangay Lazareto in Calapan City. The PCG reported that “no oil” was observed in the coral habitat of Harka Piloto Island.

In their assessments, the PCG utilized the photo quadrant method, laying transect lines and capturing photographs to evaluate the condition of the affected areas. The report indicates that the assessed area experiences high-energy wave action, with most corals being hard corals that can withstand strong water currents at certain times of the day.

The spilled oil, composed of relatively large molecules, did not easily sink into the water column, resulting in its deposition primarily along shoreline areas rather than underwater.

On May 22, the PCG and Bantay Dagat conducted another coral assessment at the Barangay Masaguing Fish Sanctuary in Naujan, Oriental Mindoro.

The team deployed three transect lines and utilized quadrant methods to observe the condition of the MPA. The formal assessment reports will be forwarded to the Incident Management Team-Oriental Mindoro once they become available.

The ongoing monitoring efforts by the PCG and partner agencies are essential in safeguarding the marine ecosystems and the livelihoods of the local communities affected by the oil spill incident.

Oil tanker MT Princess Empress sank off the coast of Oriental Mindoro while carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil on February 28, causing a massive oil spill.

Photo courtesy of the Philippine Cost Guard

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s