Aimed at building the resilience of Palawan coastal ecosystems, the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS) has proposed recently a six-year Coastal and Marine Environment Rehabilitation Program.

The P1.08-billion proposed project aims to protect, enhance, and rehabilitate the province’s coastal ecosystems to build resiliency to climate change, according to PCSDS Coastal and Marine Section Head John Francisco A. Pontillas, whose team developed the proposal.

The PCSDS is the technical implementing arm of the multi-sectoral and intergovernmental executive body, PCSD, which was created in 1992 by virtue of a landmark environmental legislation, the Republic Act 7611 or the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan Act.

Pontillas noted that Palawan’s coastal resources is not in its best of health with only 2.1% of its coral reefs in excellent condition, 49.5% in good to very good condition, and the remaining half of the coral reefs in poor to fair condition based on the categories set by the PCSDS.

“The implication is that because of its deteriorating condition we are not maximizing the fishery benefits of our coral reefs,” said Pontillas, who is also a public policy specialist.

Based on scientific estimation, he said the “excellent reefs produce more fishes estimated at 180 kilos per hectare per year, while poor reefs produce less fishes approximately 30 kilos per hectare per year.”

Currently, he added the province’s municipal reef fisheries production is estimated at 74,757.34 metric tons per year; but with the restoration of Palawan’s coral reefs into its excellent condition, it is expected to go up to 176,400 MT per year.

Pontillas, on one hand, underscored the potential additional gain from restored coral reefs of roughly P5 billion per year or equivalent to 101,642.66 MT per year in reef fisheries production.

“The potential additional gain in fisheries production if we will be able to protect and manage well our coastal marine resources is approximately P5 billion per year,” he said, adding that this would hugely contribute to the Philippine economy.

It can be noted that several studies have shown that Palawan is important both as fishing grounds and as source of fish eggs and young fishes in both the Sulu-Sulawesi Ecoregion, which lies at the apex of the Coral Triangle, and the West Philippine Sea.

However, its strategic location, being adjacent to areas of high fish diversity, makes it vulnerable to anthropogenic or man-made threats.

The deteriorating condition of Palawan’s coral reefs can be attributed to overfishing, the use of destructive fishing methods such as blast and cyanide fishing, and sedimentation coming from the adjacent lands due to unsustainable land use practices, notably agricultural practices such as kaingin farming and mineral development, according to Pontillas.

But he emphasized that the biggest global threat to coral reefs is climate change due to the increase in sea surface temperature, thus resulting to coral bleaching, in addition to increase in acidity of the oceans that can severely affect the health of corals and other marine organisms.

Data released by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric and Administration (NOAA) predicted a 90%-100% probability of coral bleaching to happen in most parts of the Philippines  for the period July-October this year, Pontillas cited.

Coral bleaching was already noted in Honda Bay in Puerto Princesa City and in other parts of Palawan by teams from the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO), Western Philippines University (WPU) and the PCSDS.

Meanwhile, the proposed project will build on the existing initiatives with primary focus on the establishment and operationalization of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), Sanctuaries and Core Zones as designated under existing local legislations.

It would only be implemented once it gets approval from the PCSD, and budgeting through counterparting by the local government units (LGUs) and concerned government agencies.

The six-year Coastal and Marine Environment Rehabilitation Program forms part of the “Palawan Natural Capital Management for Integrative Development,” a comprehensive project which aims to “sustain Palawan ecosystems of high conservation value and natural resource stocks of high economic value.”