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‘Damaged coral area much bigger’

The havoc wrought by poachers on coral reefs off South Cotabato is “much worse” than earlier estimated, according to a ranking environment official.

Theresa Mondita Lim, director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), said yesterday that the damaged area could reach “almost five times the size” of Manila and not just almost twice its size as initial reports said.

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Environment officials had said that poachers damaged a reef complex almost twice the size of the city of Manila when they harvested more than 21,000 pieces of black coral and killed 161 endangered turtles and other marine life that the Bureau of Customs (BOC) later intercepted.

Lim said that the DENR was preparing to file charges against Exequiel Navarro, the consignee of the contraband, and the other persons that Navarro named as responsible for the poaching and the smuggling attempt.

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“We will file the charges against those responsible for this as soon as possible. We won’t let them get away with this,” she said.

Five times Manila’s land area

Lim added: “Our initial estimate was that it was twice the area of Manila but we validated this with a renowned expert on soft corals who is now in the country and he said that the area was much bigger.”

She said Gary Williams of the California Academy of Sciences estimated that the area damaged or destroyed could reach up to 190.8 square kilometers, or five times Manila’s land area of 38.55 sq km.

Lim described Williams as a world-renowned expert on corals whose research had brought him to the Galapagos Islands, Patagonia, southern Africa, the Russian Far East, Antartica and the sub-Arctic.

“He is now in the country conducting a survey in Anilao (Batangas),” Lim said.

Lim said Navarro was in the custody of the BOC and had revealed who were behind the poaching and smuggling attempt.

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Names to be released tomorrow

“The BOC is supposed to release their names (tomorrow) and we will work on that to file the charges before the green courts,” Lim said.

She explained that the Supreme Court in 2009 designated special courts to handle environmental cases to expedite their resolution. “We will charge them for violating the Wildlife Act and the Fisheries Code,” Lim said.

She said that Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, chair of the Senate committee on the environment, will inspect the confiscated black coral and dead turtles on Monday in the port of Manila.

Afterwards, the stuffed turtles would be brought to the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife while the black corals would be taken to the storage facility of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Lim said.

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TAGS: Bureau of Customs, Coral reefs, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Environmental Degradation, Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, South Cotabato
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