Environment advocates conduct research expedition on Panaon Island in Southern Leyte

Published October 27, 2020, 6:19 PM

by Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz

While the average coral cover in the Philippines is at 20 percent, within the site of a marine research expedition in Panaon Island, Southern Leyte is a stunning 70 percent cover, according to an environmental conservation group.

Panaon Island is the latest hub of a 22-day multidisciplinary marine expedition led by Oceana Philippines’ marine scientists and volunteers.

They started to photograph, film, and research corals, seamounts and other unique marine ecosystems in the area last Oct. 16.

Panaon Island is bounded by four bodies of water—Surigao Strait, Visayan Sea, Sogod Bay and Pacific Ocean. Its rich biodiversity is crucial in ensuring food security, laying the ground for poverty alleviation measures, and enhancing the well-being of surrounding coastal communities.

“The reef mounts in Panaon are especially noteworthy considering that while the average coral cover in the Philippines is at 20 percent, those within the expedition site have a remarkable 70 percent cover,” Oceana said.

Coral reefs are vital to a healthy ocean ecosystem by providing habitat to countless marine species, it pointed out.

“Panaon Island is one of the areas identified to likely survive the negative impact of global climate crisis, thus, the urgency to protect it now,” Oceana vice president Gloria Estenzo Ramos said.

Citing the Reefs at Risk Revisited report published by the World Resources Institute in 2011, it was found that 90 percent of the world’s corals are projected to die by 2050 because of rising oceans temperatures and acidity due to climate change.

The water around Panaon Island is identified as one of the 50 priority reefs of private sector-backed initiative, which includes Bloomberg Philanthropies, that helps ensure ocean ecosystems survive and thrive despite the growing threat of climate change. 

Other Philippine reefs included in this priority list are in Napantao, also in Southern Leyte, and two in Palawan.

This year’s expedition led by Oceana is in partnership with the provincial and municipal governments in the area and various partner-stakeholders.

Southern Leyte Gov. Damian Mercado has given the province’s support to Oceana’s expedition. 

Also part of Oceana’s goal is to conduct a socioeconomic survey for coastal communities in the island, provided that the coronavirus situation improves.

Oceana, which participated in the government-led Philippine Rise (formerly known as Benham Rise) expedition in 2016, faced several challenges while planning for the launch of the Panaon mission during the pandemic. 

These include having the crew undertake RT-PCR testing for coronavirus and go through the required 14-day isolation as well as complex logistics planning in order for the crew to minimize landing onshore for supply run.