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Incoming fisheries chief vows to stop coral reef destruction

By: - Correspondent / @dtmallarijrINQ
/ 06:20 PM May 26, 2011

LUCENA CITY, Philippines—Environmentalist lawyer Asis Perez, the incoming director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, vowed on Thursday to stop the destruction of coral reefs in the Philippines seas, which he described as rampant.

The coral reef “is the most abused eco-system not only because of the lucrative coral collection trade, but mostly due to actual destruction as result of continuous irresponsible fishing methods like dynamite fishing,” Perez said in a telephone interview.

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Perez said he would focus on “educating the citizenry” on the importance of preserving the country’s fragile marine resources, particularly coral reefs.

“Most of our people are not yet aware of the importance of our corals. We have to seriously address that problem. The first step toward the a creation of a balanced environment and the preservation of our precious natural resources is to have an enlightened citizenry,” said Perez, former executive director of Tanggol Kalikasan (Defense of Nature), a public interest environmental law office.

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He said most of the people are likely to follow the law if they know, and understand what it is all about.

Perez said the cost of educating the citizens about the importance of the environment was modest “but its impact on the environment would be immeasurable.”

On Tuesday, government authorities reported the confiscation of thousands of black corals which had been taken from a reef complex off Miondanao’s Cotabato area.

Bureau of Customs personnel intercepted the contraband two weeks ago and recovered 21,169 pieces of “sea fan” black corals, and hundreds of “sea whip” black corals.

Perez lamented that coral reef poaching was still rampant in the country, particularly in the seas off the Zamboanga Peninsula and the Cotabato area.

He also noted that in the past corals were used in construction. “Most of our old piers were built with coral foundations,” he said.

Perez said one of his challenges when he assumes the BFAR post is the shortage of personnel to enforce the laws meant to protect the country’s marine eco-system.

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“While BFAR has an enforcement function, we lack enforcement personnel,” he said, noting that the bureau has to rely on other law enforcement units to combat coral reef poachers.

He said BFAR was also handicapped in that it had no authority to enforce the law in municipal waters where the coral reefs are often located.

The BFAR, which is under the Department of Agriculture, is responsible for the development, improvement, management and conservation of the country’s fisheries and aquatic resources. It was reconstituted as a line bureau by Republic Act No. 8550 (Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998).

Perez, who was recognized by the Species Survival Network, a global coalition of 82 organizations in more than 30 countries, as a “true protector of wildlife resources,” took his oath of office as BFAR chief last Monday. He will assume office on June 1.

He will replace Gil Adora, the officer in charge appointed after Malcolm Sarmiento retired last month.

Perez said he would push for more police visibility to keep watch on the country’s municipal waters.

“Because even if the people were aware of the law, there are still some of them who would violate it if there’s a chance,” he said.

Citing the experience of Tanggol Kalikasan in the campaign to protect and preserve the Sierra Madre section of Isabela, Perez said that after more than a year of continuous operations against illegal loggers, and educating the people about the importance of preserving the forest, at least 90 percent of local residents expressed approval over what the conservationists were doing.

“But we still have to face the remaining ten percent of the people as potential violators. Educating the people is one thing, police visibility is another because there are still threats from potential violators,” he said.

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