Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The rape of Tubbataha Reef

There is one thing that sets us apart as a winner among our globalneighbors. We may be losing out on economic gains, on political maturity andon being a choice destination for tourists and investors, but we undoubtedlyhave the richest and most diverse marine life in the world. There is,however, something here that scares me. We are a people prone to shootingour own feet. How much longer can we hang on to the one remaining asset wehave, which our neighbors in the region lust after? Just before Christmas, particularly on Dec. 21, a Chinese fishing vesselwith 30 Chinese fishermen on board were caught red-handed poaching or takingrare and endangered species of fish in our area of jurisdiction, just 1.5miles from the Tubbataha Reef which was declared by no less than UnitedNations as a World Heritage Site. Tubbataha's reef form the core of theSulu-Sulawesi Marine Eco-Region, hailed as one of the world's mostproductive ecosystems. The 30 Chinese poachers were caught with tons of high-value fish including359 napoleon wrasses-locally known as mameng-an endangered species, as wellas groupers and other rare fish varieties. The collection, possession,transport or trade of the napoleon wrasse is illegal and carries with it afine of $2,400 for each fish as well as a prison term of up to 20 years. Thewrasse is prized as a delicacy and may sell for as much as $100 for everykilogram. Of the fishes poached, 59 napoleon wrasses and a large number ofother varieties have died as they were kept in dark holding tanks in thevessel with no food to nourish them. The Bureau of Fisheries and AquaticResources in Puerto Princesa is now temporarily holding the fish in sea pensto nourish them back to health before they are released back to the reefs.

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