|Coastal, Marine and Island Biodiversity: Seagrasses|
The Philippines has the second highest seagrass diversity in the world, second only to Australia. It contributes about 19 species or about 55% of the number of species in East Asia. Seven (7) species, comprising 40% of the total recorded in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia and 18% of global record, are found in Ulugan Bay in Palawan (Fortes, 2004).
Among the tropical coastal ecosystems, seagrasses are the least studied. The first Philippine-wide surveys indicated that seagrass beds in the Philippines are spread discontinuously over 978 sq km in 96 selected sites. However, this observation is reflective of data resulting from unsystematic studies and incidental collections rather than its true distribution in the country (Fortes 1995 as cited in Fortes, 2004). Of this total, 343 sq km have been estimated using combined satellite images and ground surveys while the rest are based on unvalidated satellite images. Of these sites, Puerto Princes/Honda Bay in Palawan (with 43 sq km of seagrass beds), Bolinao in Pangasinan (25 sq km) and Malampaya Sound in Palawan (21 sq km) top the list. Of the unvalidated sites, Sulu Archipelago (167 sq km), Northern Palawan (89 sq km) and Southwestern Palawan (47 sq km) top the list (Fortes, 2004).
Figure 17 shows recent data on the distribution of seagrasses in the Philippines, now covering about 27,282 sq km (Fortes, 2008).
The decline in coastal water quality, degradation of environment and resources, and human-induced disturbances pose as threats to seagrass communities. In particular, seagrass communities have been destroyed due to siltation or sedimentation, pollution, eutrophication, nutrient loading, dredging, and unsustainable fishing practices. Other site-based threats are oil pollution, tourism development, and boat scour. In the last 50 years, about 30-40% of seagrass areas in the Philippines have been lost (Fortes, 2008).
A seagrass demonstration site has been established in Bolinao, Pangasinan and a seagrass sanctuary, in Narra, Palawan, to showcase the achievements and lessons learned in the management of these important marine plants. In Bolinao, the main achievements included the development of a management plan that has been adopted by the local government, development of a Bolinao Seagrass Reserve, implementation of a sustained information, education and communication program, capacity building and provision of alternative livelihood programs. Local law enforcement in habitat management using the Bantay Dagat (Sea Watch) has also been instituted (UNEP, 2008). This is also true in Narra Seagrass Sanctuary.
In 2007, the Philippine National Seagrass Committee published the Philippine National Seagrass Conservation Strategy and Action Plan (NSCS). The NSCS is an integrated approach to address seagrass-related issues and concerns developed through a multi-stakeholder participatory process and built on past efforts at developing plans of action. Five major areas for action have been identified, namely: 1) research and monitoring; 2) national policy, legal and institutional arrangements and coordination; c) public awareness, communication and education; 4) capacity building and sustainability; and, 5) resource and habitat management. Some of these identified actions are currently being implemented by partner institutions and agencies.