Filipino environment groups want more measures to protect ocean from oil spills

On World Wildlife Day March 3, Protect VIP, a coalition that seeks to protect the Verde Island Passage, raised the alarm on reports that the 800,000 liters of industrial oil cargo from a sunken tanker has leaked and reached at least four coastal towns in Oriental Mindoro, putting in immediate danger the biodiverse marine life of the marine corridor.

According to the Philippine Coast Guard, traces of industrial fuel oil has been found in the waters of Naujan while patches of emulsified oil were seen on the coast of Pinamalayan, both of which are municipalities of Oriental Mindoro. Bantay Dagat also reported an oil spill in the almost one-hectare waters near Sibale Island in Romblon.

Fr. Gariguez, Convenor of Protect VIP Network, said: “It is saddening that on the occasion of World Wildlife Day, we are grappling with the unfolding of an environmental nightmare right before our eyes. Oil spills leave impacts that can be felt for decades, like what the island of Guimaras experienced in 2006. 

“We fear for the livelihood of those who rely on the bountiful waters of VIP and for the health of those who live along impacted coasts.” 

Verde Island Passage, a 1.14-million-hectare marine corridor dubbed as the Amazon of the Oceans, is the center of marine shorefish biodiversity in the world with over 1,700 fish species, 300 coral species, and home to charismatic species such as whale sharks and sea turtles.

“The heartbreaking images of dead fish and sea birds falling victim to this unfortunate incident is sadly just the start of the oil spill would not be addressed with urgency. Oil can kill aquatic life by poisoning and suffocation. The Verde Island Passage’s marine ecosystems and coastal environments are in great peril,” said Dr. Nina Galang, President of Green Convergence, an environmental coalition.

The network also called for a review of governing laws for oil spills, such as the Oil Pollution Compensation Act of 2007 and the Philippine Clean Water Act, to ensure that damages and violations are rightfully enacted.

Brent Ivan Andres, Oceans, Coastal and Community Program Head of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development, a member organization of the Protect VIP Network, added: “Containment of oil spills is a race against time. The longer this lets on, the more horrific the consequences would be. 

“We call on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Yulo to ensure immediate cleanup and assessment of the severity as well as the national and local government units to assist the nearby coastal communities whose livelihood will be on pause.” 

The group also called for the protection of the entire Verde Island Passage following the declaration of state of calamity in Pola, Oriental Mindoro.

Fr. Gariguez said: “This incident is a stark reminder of the utmost need to strengthen measures to protect the waters of Mindoro and the Verde Island Passage as a whole and to prevent such incidents from happening. 

“There is a need to revisit policies and safeguard shipping activities that ply our waters, especially in ecologically sensitive areas such as VIP. With the declaration of state calamity in Pola, Oriental Mindoro, it is time that we declare the protection of and put in place conservation measures for the Verde Island Passage.” 

Photo credit: CEEED/ Jilson Tiu. Red drums containing oil from the clean-up drive dot the once pristine coasts of Pola.

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