Reef’s real value is priceless
National outrage followed on the heels of the grounding of a US Navy ship in the south atoll of the Tubbataha Reef National Park (TRNP), off the coast of Puerto Princesa in Palawan. The TRNP is a protected area under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (Nipas) designated by Republic Act No. 7586, also known as the Nipas Act. The TRNP is also a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage site.
It is sometimes difficult to appreciate how much we as a society depend on the natural ecosystems for our daily needs. This is the reason why we calculate the benefits we get from them—the ecosystem services. Coral reefs serve as a habitat for fishes and other marine life.
They provide food, shelter and nursery ground for marine life. Coral reef services are estimated to provide an average of $130,000 per hectare per year and up to a maximum of $1.2 million, based on reports from the Diversitas Biodiversity Conference in October 2009, in Cape Town, South Africa. The services include food, raw materials, protection from storm surges, climate regulation, water purification, opportunities for recreation and tourism and maintenance of genetic diversity. A more specific study on Philippine reefs shows that reefs in good condition are valuable for tourism.
Aside from the loss of ecosystem services due to the grounding, there is the cost of restoring the damaged area. The government stated that studies on the damage assessment and restoration costs have yet to be done after the ship is removed. It is noteworthy that efforts have been made to ensure no further damage from an oil spill will occur.
Perhaps with the resources of the US Navy, the necessary compensation that we recommend for the stranding of the USS Guardian can be determined. But at this point, we would like to draw attention to one final detail of the grounding. As the ship made an unauthorized entry into the marine protected area, the Bantay-Dagat officials tasked with protecting the reef tried to warn the ship’s crew that they were about to run into the coral reef. This warning was deliberately ignored and disaster ensued.
We believe that it is time we began respecting the biodiversity of protected areas and the rules for their management, not just based on whether we can pay for the damages, but also for the irreplaceable value that they have which may be forever lost. If we all do not do this, then we will have ensured the continued deterioration of our protected areas, loss of biodiversity and the potential destruction of our livelihoods and natural heritage. Indeed, money can be paid, as penalty, for damaging our reef, but it’s high time we remembered that the true value of our biodiversity is incalculable, and even priceless.
—ANABELLE E. PLANTILLA,
chief operating officer,
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