environmental issues

FAST FACTS: Verde Island Passage, the ‘Amazon of the oceans’

Lorenz Pasion

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FAST FACTS: Verde Island Passage, the ‘Amazon of the oceans’

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A part of the Coral Triangle, the Verde Island Passage is regarded by experts as the 'center of the center of marine shore fish biodiversity'
FAST FACTS: Verde Island Passage, the ‘Amazon of the oceans’

MANILA, Philippines – The oil spill from the sunken tanker MT Princess Empress is expected to reach the Verde Island Passage (VIP) weeks after it devastated the coastal towns of Oriental Mindoro.

In an oil spill trajectory model, experts from the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) predicted the oil could flow towards the VIP by March 16.

Known by experts as the “center of the center of marine shore fish biodiversity,” VIP is home to the highest concentration of coastal fishes, corals, crustaceans, molluscs, seagrasses, and mangroves. 

Here’s what you need to know about this underwater wonderland threatened by the oil spill.

Busy water route

A Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) article said the VIP covers an area of more than 1.4 million hectares, spanning five provinces: Batangas, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Marinduque, and Romblon. It is not under the sole jurisdiction of any local government.

American non-profit organization Conservation International said in a pamphlet that it is one of the country’s busiest shipping corridors, home to an international port and various oil and gas facilities.

The VIP produces around P1 billion annually just from fishing, Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development executive director Gerry Arances said in an interview with CNN.

‘Amazon of the oceans’

A part of the Coral Triangle, Verde Island Passage is considered by renowned marine scientists Kent Carpenter and Victor Springer as the “center of the center of marine shore fish biodiversity,” and is dubbed the “Amazon of the oceans.”

According to a PCIJ article, this body of water teems with 1,700 fish species and 300 coral species. Due to its rich biodiversity, the VIP is home to 54 marine protected areas.

An article published by EurekAlert, a science news website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said the Verde Island Passage is also home to endangered and threatened species, including the following:

  • Hawksbill turtles
  • Whale sharks
  • Manta rays
  • Dugongs
  • Humphead wrasses
  • Giant groupers
  • Giant clams

In 2015, the California Academy of Sciences announced that American and Filipino scientists had discovered 100 species in the Verde Island Passage. (READ: PH is marine hot spot: Verde Island Passage yields 100 new species)

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[OPINION] Oil spill at Verde Island Passage: More peril in Amazon of the Oceans

[OPINION] Oil spill at Verde Island Passage: More peril in Amazon of the Oceans
Looming threat

UP MSI’s simulation shows that the oil will flow northward due to the weakening of the northwest monsoon, known in the Philippines as amihan. The oil is expected to affect the coastal areas of Calapan, Verde Island, and some parts of Batangas.   

Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of the environmental group Protect VIP, called for urgent action from the government to contain the oil spill, and for accountability on the part of MT Princess Empress’ owner, RDC Reield Marines Services.

“In transporting a highly polluting substance across the Verde Island Passage and its surrounding waters, these companies deliberately cruise through and place at risk fragile marine ecosystems and the livelihood of all who depend on them,” Gariguez said in a statement.

“This is not the first time that a vessel carrying highly polluting fuels leaked its contents into the VIP’s waters, yet no sufficient measure is in place that could have prevented this latest oil spill from occurring or causing as massive a devastation as it already has,” Gariguez added.

Liza Osorio, legal and policy director of marine conservation group Oceana, told Rappler in an interview that the Verde Island Passage is an ecologically sensitive area that should be conserved.

“We haven’t even discovered everything that lives in it. It’s really like a last frontier for us,” Osorio said.

“We need to recognize its importance as a center of the center of marine shore fish biodiversity and also put in the requisite measures that should be in place, declare it as a protected area under national laws, and ensure that there are management mechanisms in place,” she added. – Rappler.com

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Lorenz Pasion

Lorenz Pasion is a researcher at Rappler and a member of its fact-check team that debunks false claims that spread on social media.