Priceless marine assets,7-M people at VIP nowat risk–UP experts


THICK black oil from the sunken MT Princess Empress continues to be released and is now seriously threatening priceless marine resources and famously pristine beaches of the Verde Island Passage (VIP), experts from the University of the Philippines-College of Science’s Marine Science Institute (MSI) said.

Based on Bulletin #10, as of March 21, 2023, the oil spill trajectory model forecasts that the spill will flow through the VIP for the rest of the week.

With the help of Japanese experts that used a remotely operated vehicle, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) was able to capture images of the ill-fated vessel, exactly where it was earlier pinpointed by the National Mapping and Resources Information Authority (Namria) using the sonar technology of BRP Ventura.

With the images, the Philippine Coast Guard along with support groups from Japan and US Coast Guard are expected to come up with the next plan of action. Experts said the leaks in the vessel where oil are seeping out should be sealed to stop the oil from further causing damage to marine ecosystems around it.

In a statement, the UP-CS MSI said swaths of thick black oil from the MT Princess Empress are expected to hit the VIP by March 24 to 26, according to the UP-CS MSI.

Located between Batangas and Mindoro, the VIP is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, home to thousands of unique species.

According to the UP-CS MSI, the number of people whose livelihood depends on the bounty of the VIP has reached the 7 million mark.  With some of the highest concentrations of coastal fishes, corals, crustaceans, mollusks, seagrasses, and mangroves worldwide, the VIP is the main source of food and livelihood for people living on both sides of the strait.

The UP-CS MSI noted that the area also encompasses Puerto Galera, whose white sand beaches are internationally-acclaimed tourist destinations that are another vital source of revenue for local communities.

So far, thick black oil has been found floating off the coast of Baco Chico Island near Calapan City, Oriental Mindoro.  A photograph by Marion Cepillo, Blue Alliance Key Ocean Defender (BAKOD), Blue Alliance, was also released to the media by the UP-CS MSI.

Experts from the UP-CS MSI have been working closely around the clock with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) alongside other universities, government agencies, and stakeholders in a race to address the oil spill and stop it from spreading.

“The VIP is home to endangered and threatened species including the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, whale sharks, manta rays, dugongs, humphead wrasses, giant groupers, and giant clams,” the UPD-CS MSI said in an update. “Damage from the oil spill may affect biodiversity (including endemic species only found in the Philippines as well as species yet to be discovered), tourism revenues, and food security in the area,” they added.

“The Verde Island Passage represents a large portion of the country’s marine biodiversity, and is a vital resource for millions of people, past and present,” said UPD-CS MSI Associate Professor Irene Rodriguez. “If we work together, we can still hopefully safeguard it for future generations to come.”

Image credits: Greenpeace Philippines