West Philippine Sea

LOOK: Scientists find extensive bleaching, dead corals in Escoda Shoal

Iya Gozum

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LOOK: Scientists find extensive bleaching, dead corals in Escoda Shoal

WARMING. Marine biologist Jonathan Anticamara says the corals they surveyed in the first week of June 2024 in Escoda Shoal are in different stages of dying.

Jonathan Anticamara

Filipino scientist Fernando Siringan attributes the damage mainly to 'anomalous warming' of the waters in the West Philippine Sea in the past weeks

MANILA, Philippines – Filipino scientists led by Jonathan Anticamara and Fernando Siringan found extensive coral damage in Escoda Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, during a two-day marine scientific research early June.

LOOK: Scientists find extensive bleaching, dead corals in Escoda Shoal

Anticamara, a scientist at the Institute of Biology of the University of the Philippines, said the extent of coral damage in Escoda Shoal is tantamount to an “ecological disaster.”

“What we found on the first day is extensive [coral] bleaching…what we saw, what we documented across all areas we dived in had almost 100% of the corals dead. And they’re in different stages of dying,” Anticamara said in a mix of Filipino and English during a press conference on June 8, Saturday.

Nature, Outdoors, Water
RUBBLE. Collapsed reef structures seen by Filipino scientists on June 5, 2024, during their third survey site in Escoda Shoal. Photo by Jonathan Anticamara

The marine biologist said that if they were given more time to survey more areas, they would have just seen more dead corals in the shallow waters of the shoal.

“There’s no space where we saw corals that are still alive,” said Anticamara. “My interpretation is that that’s really an ecological disaster for Escoda.”

The scientists surveyed three sites, two of them sandbars, last June 4 and 5.

Animal, Nature, Outdoors
DYING. It would be very hard for the corals to recover once brown algae takes over them. Slowly, the dead corals start to crumble down. Photo from Jonathan Anticamara

Siringan, a marine geologist, said in the same press conference that this is mainly due to “anomalous warming” of the waters in the West Philippine Sea the past weeks. Corals turn white when they bleach, and while they are not considered dead yet, their mortality rate increases.

He explained that the warming is not an isolated case. Warmer temperatures in the waters also affect the Tubbataha Reef “and cut across outside of the West Philippine Sea, towards the west side of the basin.”

“It’s part of a global anomaly,” said Siringan. “It’s just that the Philippines is in the area where most of that warm water is concentrated.”

Oceans around the world are warming, their temperatures increasing each year due to climate change. The warming brings stress to corals and makes them susceptible to infectious diseases.

Nature, Outdoors, Water
SURVEY. Scientists conducted a two-day marine scientific expedition in June 2024 to check the health of coral reefs, as well as Chinese researchers’ activities in the area. Photo by Jonathan Anticamara

Various algae had started to take over the dead corals. Piles of coral rubbles were also heavily guarded by China.

The team, accompanied by the Philippine Coast Guard during the research expedition, had been the subject of harassment of Chinese maritime personnel.

Aside from checking reef health in Escoda Shoal, Siringan said they also conducted the research expedition to check whether China was doing any scientific or research-related activities in the area.

“We also looked at the monitored data of Chinese activity at kung ano ‘yung impressions namin sa pwedeng ginagawa ng mga Chinese researchers doon sa area,” said Siringan.

(We also looked at the monitored data of Chinese activity and what our impressions are on what Chinese researchers are possibly doing in the area.)

corals, sea, water, ocean
REMAINS. Piles of rubble found in one of the sandbars in Escoda Shoal. Photo by Jonathan Anticamara

These findings come after an expedition in the cays of Pag-asa last March, led by Anticamara too, where the scientist concluded that damage had been done for several years already.

In recent years, Filipino scientists have been studying the West Philippine Sea to evaluate the state of its marine resources and environment. Separate surveys in the area sought to put a price tag on the damage in the area.

“The West Philippine Sea now is really in a very alarming and severely degraded state,” said Anticamara. “I think Filipinos should be able to understand the consequences of these.”

Aside from biodiversity loss, Filipinos who depend on fisheries for food and income will feel the most impact of these damaged corals.

Anticamara said that the extent of damage to corals may not be only found in the West Philippine Sea, but also “across many shallow reefs in the Philippines.”

“We can expect that there will be a lot of decrease and decline in the fisheries in the Philippines as the coral reefs slowly die at a massive rate,” Anticamara said. – Rappler.com

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Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum covers the environment, agriculture, and science beats for Rappler.