The coral-rich body of water bordering Panaon Island is the focal point of this year’s on-the-water expedition launched by Oceana in partnership with the provincial and municipal governments in the area and various partner-stakeholders.
The expedition—which started on October 16—allows Oceana’s marine scientists and volunteers to photograph, film, and research corals, seamounts and other unique marine ecosystems in the area.
Coral reefs are vital to a healthy ocean ecosystem by providing habitat to countless marine species. The demise of corals will impact species and communities around the world. In the Reefs at Risk Revisited report published by the World Resources Institute in 2011 (https://www.wri.org/publication/reefs-risk-revisited), it was found that 90% of the world’s corals are projected to die by 2050 because of rising oceans temperatures and acidity due to climate change.
The water around Panaon, a small island in the province of Southern Leyte, is identified as one of the 50 Priority reefs of private sector-backed initiative, which includes Bloomberg Philanthropies, that helps ensure ocean ecosystems survive and thrive despite the growing threat of climate change. Other Philippine reefs included in this priority list are in Napantao (also in Southern Leyte) and two in Palawan.
The reef mounts in Panaon are especially noteworthy considering that while the average coral cover in the Philippines is at 20%, those within the expedition site have a remarkable 70% cover.
Panaon Island is bound by four bodies of water—Surigao Strait, Visayan Sea, Sogod Bay and Pacific Ocean.
Also planned is a socioeconomic survey for coastal communities in the island when COVID situation improves.
Panaon Island waters’ rich biodiversity are crucial in ensuring food security, laying the ground for poverty alleviation measures, and enhancing the well-being of surrounding coastal communities.
“Panaon Island is one of the areas identified to likely survive the negative impact of global climate crisis, thus, the urgency to protect it now,” said Oceana Vice President Gloria Estenzo Ramos.
Southern Leyte Governor Damian G. Mercado has given the province’s support to Oceana’s expedition. “Being a major coastal province, our marine areas and resources are vast and still diverse. Our coastal communities are dependent on fishing as livelihood and, more importantly, our marine areas have a good number of protected areas gradually becoming diving and snorkeling destinations. Marine conservations is indeed imperative”, he said, adding that the municipalities in Panaon Island with their active local leaders and constituents, are fully supportive of the expedition activities.
Oceana, which participated in the government-led Philippine Rise (formerly known as Benham Rise) expedition in 2016, faced several challenges while planning for the launch of the Panaon mission during the pandemic. These include having the crew undertake RT-PCR testing for Covid-19 and go through the required 14-day isolation as well as complex logistics planning in order for the crew to minimize landing onshore for supply run.
Oceana is an international advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. Since 2014, Oceana has been working closely with national and local government agencies, civil society, fisherfolk and other stakeholders to restore the abundance of Philippine fisheries and marine resources.