WASHINGTON, DC, August 10, 2009 (ENS)
The Verde Island Passage, a narrow corridor of tropical waters in the Philippines that is considered the most diverse marine ecosystem in the world, is at risk of climate change and needs immediate protective action, scientists are warning.
The scientists gathered last week in Batangas City, Philippines for a workshop organized by Conservation International, which is based in Washington, DC. After assessing the impacts of climate change on the Verde Island Passage, they painted a grim picture for the unique area.
The Verde Island Passage has the highest concentration of marine species of any region in the world's oceans, including whale sharks, Rhincodon typus, giant clams, Tridacna gigas, and the iconic Banggai cardinalfish, Pterapogon kauderni.
But the panel of scientists cautioned that the impacts of climate change in combination with over-exploitation of resources already are threatening the marine habitats.
They found that increasing ocean temperatures are causing coral bleaching - meaning that corals can no longer support the array of plants and animals that rely on them.
Sea level rise is causing coral drowning as the water gets deeper and coral growth is inhibited, the scientists say.
Sea level rise is also damaging mangroves - a key costal habitat that protects the coastline and coastal communities from storms, reduces the impacts of floods and provides important habitats for juvenile fishes.
And increased storm frequency and intensity is affecting the marine habitats as well as coastal settlements and the tourist trade in the area.
Corals are becoming increasingly vulnerable to climate related threats as ocean temperatures increase, sea level rises and the ocean becomes more acidic as it absorbs the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, a process that undermines corals' ability to grow their skeletons.
The scientists were joined by government officials and local people who discussed the changes in the environment, how the local community is being affected and what needs to be done to adapt.
The scientists recommended a series of measures to protect the area, including ensuring that seagrass beds, mangroves and other habitats that provide important ecological services are included in protected areas.
They also recommended the promotion of alternative livelihoods such as seaweed farming for area residents, and construction of ports on stilts to allow sediments to move freely, reducing sediment loads that harm corals and other coastal marine ecosystems.