New seagrass species found in Boracay island

A seagrass mapping and assessment of Boracay Island has revealed that the island now has nine species of seagrass, with the newest recorded species called Halophila spinulosa.  Experts have said that this is due to the ongoing rehabilitation of the island, which resulted into a healthy marine ecosystem.

Aerial view of the seagrass bed in Bolabog, Balabag Malay, Aklan

Halophila spinulosa has tiny leaves that grow in opposite pairs on a long thin stem forming a flat fern-like overall shape. Around 10 to 20 pairs may form on the stem. New leaves grow from the tip, while older leaves at the bottom drop off.  A leaf is about two centimeters long and 0.4 centimeters wide with tiny serrations on the edges and a small one-sided fold at the base.

The newly discovered Halophila spinulosa seagrass at Sitio Tambisaan, Manoc-manoc, Malay, Aklan (Photo courtesy of Dagatnon Environmental Consulting Services)

Seagrasses are angiosperm or flowering plant that holds a vital role to the complex coastal ecosystem, as being one of the most productive coastal habitats. The leaves harbor epiphytic algae and animals like sea squirts that serve as food sources to larger animals such as fish, sea turtles, crabs, lobsters, sea cows or dugong, and sea birds. Its foliage also slows down water currents and traps sediments that clear and improves nearshore waters.

There are 16 species of seagrass found in the Philippines and nine of them are recorded existing in the island of Boracay, including the newly recorded species Halophila spinulosa or the fern seagrass.

Boracay Island has approximately 95.37 hectares of seagrass bed. Barangay Balabag in the island yields the highest percentage cover with 81.84 percent, followed by Barangay Manocmanoc and Yapak with 53.85 percent and 53.68 percent, respectively, according to the report on “Assessment, Mapping, and Delineation of Coastal and Marine Resources and Marine Protected Areas in Boracay Island, Malay, Aklan” which is subjected for regional review.

Discovery team

A team of professionals from the Dagatnon Environmental Consulting Services was tapped by the Conservation Development Division (CDD) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Region 6 (DENR 6) to conduct the seagrass mapping and assessment in the island early this year.

It was conducted in connection to the Coastal and Marine Ecosystem Management Program (CMEMP) that aims to manage, address, and effectively reduce threats of degradation on coastal and marine ecosystem for the sustainability of ecosystem services, food security, and climate change resiliency. CMEMP’s thrust also includes assessment and mapping the extent of the areas covered by different coastal habitat, as well as identifying, characterizing, and analyzing the threats that affect the island.

The Halophila spinulosa was recorded by Jan Felix Balquin of Dagatnon. Balquin was able to photograph the species situated in not more than 1x1 meter portion of the seagrass bed.

According to regional executive director Francisco E. Milla, Jr., the cleaner waters of Boracay due to the continuous rehabilitation has a positive effect.

“The cleaner waters of Boracay Island have helped sustain the healthy marine ecosystem. We also conducted an initiative on biodiversity monitoring that resulted to the discovery of species of marine resources in the island. Let us continue to exert efforts in conserving the environment of Boracay,” he said.

The DENR considered the successful rehabilitation of Boracay Island as one of its major accomplishments. Enhanced biodiversity conservation and scaling up of coastal and marine ecosystem program are among the top 10 priority programs of the department.