Although many climate change discussions are dominated by predictions for the future, its effects have already been observed across the globe.
“Climate change is real,” says Romeo Trono, Director of the Philippine Country Program at Conservation International (CI). “Climate change has and will continue to affect our biodiversity, our fisheries, our tourism, our homes and our lives.”
Island nations such as the Philippines are at particularly high risk. As a result, a group of scientists, politicians and local community members gathered last month in Batangas City to assess how vulnerable communities and the marine biodiversity they depend on are to the effects of climate change, so that adaptation plans can be expanded as soon as possible.
The “Center of the Center”
From the ocean’s surface, the Verde Island Passage (VIP) in the Philippines may appear to be dominated by ships transporting goods and tourists. Just under the waves, however, lies what has often been called “the center of the center” of global marine biodiversity—an important source of food for the millions who call the region home.
EXPLORE: The Philippine Islands
Located at the convergence of the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea, the VIP is an integral part of the Sulu-Sulawesi seascape. It encompasses 1.14 million hectares (almost three million acres), and is host to threatened species such as giant groupers (Epinephelus lanceolatus), whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), giant clams (Tridacna gigas), sea turtles and marine mammals.
Although factors such as overfishing, pollution, coastal development and sedimentation all threaten marine life in the VIP, the effects of climate change loom. Rising sea levels, increased ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, coral bleaching and other effects attributed to climate change will not only affect the region’s fragile ecosystems and species, but also the nearby communities who rely on the fishing and tourism industries for their livelihoods.
New Perspectives on Coastal Management
At last month’s vulnerability assessment, CI joined government officials, scientists and local stakeholder organizations from five coastal provinces. Among the 100 participants was Secretary Heherson T. Alvarez, the Philippine Presidential Advisor on Global Warming and Climate Change.
BLOG: Dr. Guiseppe Di Carlo blogged daily from the conference. Read his dispatches.
Scientists first presented the climate change effects that have already been observed in the area, including ocean temperature increases and greater vulnerability of certain islands to storms. Researchers also projected how these changes will affect fisheries, development, tourism and other means of livelihood for poor coastal communities.
Upon the presentation of this information, the provincial governments began the process of reviewing their current coastal management plans and adapting them to be more “climate smart.” A variety of adaptations were suggested, including:
- Construction of ports on stilts to account for sediment movement
- Inclusion of seagrass beds, mangroves and other habitats (not just coral reefs) within marine protected areas
- Promotion of alternative livelihoods (such as seaweed farming) to adapt to potential loss in fishery production
- Outreach activities to promote awareness of the issues and further community engagement
These new adaptation plans will build off the work that CI is already doing in the Philippines, such as a mangrove rehabilitation project currently underway in the Calatagan region. More mangroves will create a greater storm buffer, support fish populations, and provide other benefits for nearby communities.
IN DEPTH: Around the World: Protecting Marine Areas
Although the VIP may look small on a map, it is an essential part of the Coral Triangle, a vast expanse of ocean bordered by the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste. In 2007, these countries formed the Coral Triangle Initiative, an organization that fosters international dialogue about proper management and protection of the most diverse marine territory on earth. As one of the planet’s major food sources, millions of people depend on the Coral Triangle’s bounty for survival.
The challenge of protecting a large international territory in the face of myriad threats is evident. However, the determination of the VIP’s workshop participants reveals that people are up to the task. By grounding the work locally, and by ensuring climate considerations are part of sustainable plans, important progress can be made.
READ MORE: Galápagos and Climate Change