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MODULE 1. ATONG KADAGATAN, OUR OCEAN, OUR HOME
There are over 90 million Filipinos in the Philippines. They live in a rainbow of cultures in an archipelago of 7,107 islands, 175 languages, and over 300 dialects. Many identify themselves as Ilokanos, Visayans, Tagalogs, Ilonggo and many other ethnic groups. As of 2011, over 2 million sought work overseas because of high unemployment rates. Millions more have left for good, now calling countries such as the United States “home away from home.” The distance away from their homeland only makes these Filipinos yearn more for it. They dream of warm tropical weather, good traditional food, and endless beaches. The call of the old country is always hard to resist. They always come back whenever they can.
It is not the island paradise, though, that greets every balikbayan or one who returns home. Outside of the international airports in the metropolises, the first thing they see upon their arrival, are like any other in a developing country. It is littered with skyscrapers and billboards next to poverty-stricken slums. This glaring disparity is a result of a complex history involving centuries of Spanish, American, and Japanese colonial rule, and continuing corruption. However, as these Filipinos leave the city behind, the landscape gradually transforms into a relaxed and slow-paced countryside. The ride home is usually a drive along a coastal highway, and this is when the overwhelming presence of the sea becomes apparent. It is a sneak peak into the treasures of the Philippines.
Many Filipinos live along coastal communities, which have very high concentrations of marine biodiversity. Most of this biodiversity is found along shallow coastlines consisting of six major ecosystems: coral reefs, mangroves, beach ecosystems, estuaries, lagoons, and seagrass beds. These areas are hosts to thousands of species of fish, clams, snails, corals, and many other marine organisms.
The Philippine marine ecosystem is quite special. John W. McManus of the Rosential School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) at the University of Miami, Florida, states that the Philippines, especially the Visayas, is the epicenter of marine biodiversity in the world. It has at least 3 to 5 times more species of fish, corals, and many other groups of organisms than those found in the Caribbean, Tahiti or Hawai’i. Only the most northern part of the Great Barrier Reefs in Australia has more reef species than the Philippines (Alino et al., 2002).
The Philippines is home to five percent of the total global area of coral reefs. They have been described as a breathtaking explosion of colors and vitality. To Filipino fishermen and their families, this is part of their home and their means of survival. To divers and snorkelers, it is an awe-inspiring and moving experience. As Yasmin D. Arquiza and Alan T. White write in Tales of Tubbataha:
“Like a mirage rising out of the vast Sulu Sea, the shallow reef flats of Tubbataha slowly emerges as a white line on the horizon. It is a welcome sight to travelers who have sailed the open sea and seen almost nothing but water for the past 12 hours. As the line draws nearer, emerald waters reveal a marine paradise where colorful fish and marine critters play among corals of various hues and shades. Donning mask and snorkel, swimmers feast their eyes on underwater gardens so full of life, they could aptly be called the marine version of tropical rainforests.”
It is no wonder that many Filipinos all over the globe come home whenever they can to be with their beloved Philippines.
Alino, P. M., Miclat, E.F,B, & Nanola, C. L. (2002). Atlas of Philippine coral reefs. Manila : Goodwill Trading Co., Inc.
Arquiza, Y., & White, A. (1994). Tales from Tubbataha: natural history, resource use, and conservation of the Tubbataha Reefs, Palawan, Philippines. Puerto Princessa: Bandillo Ng Palawan Foundation.
Carpenter, K.E., & Springer V.G. (2005). The center of the center of marine shore fish biodiversity: The Philippine Islands. Environmental Biology of Fishes 72, 467-480.
Cu Unjieng, E., & Tuason, S. (1999). Anilao. Makati City: Bookmark Inc.
Gulko, D. (1999). Hawaiian coral reef ecology. Honolulu: Mutual Publishing Co.
McManus, J.W. (2002). The global importance of Philippine coral reefs. pp. 7-8. In: Alino P.M, Miclat, E.F.B., Nanola, C.L., Jr., Roa-Quiaouit, H.A., and Campos, R.T. (eds), Atlas of Philippine coral reefs. Goodwill Trading Co., Inc. Manila, Philippines.
The Coastal Management Project (CRMP). (2004). Understanding the Philippine Coastal Environment. Retrieved Apr. 29, 2012, from http://oneocean.org/about_crmp/where_we_are
White, A. T. (1987). Philippine coral reefs: A natural history guide. Quezon City: New Day Publishers.