More than two weeks after MT Princess Empress’ descent, it’s still a race against time to contain the spillage in Oriental Mindoro. Each day the sunken vessel continues to leak oil underneath equates to life snuffed out of the sea. Threats to marine life and biodiversity continue to multiply the longer MT Princess Empress remains submerged. As the slick continues to creep to adjoining waters, now threatening to reach the treasured Verde Island Passage, we are confronted with the scarier reality that the heart of world biodiversity may die very soon if we fail to get our acts together now.
The Verde Island Passage is a channel between the province of Batangas and the Mindoro Islands which stretches about one hundred kilometers long and approximately 1,000 meters deep. The life that thrives beneath the waters of Verde Island Passage, apart from being a national treasure, is critical to the preservation of the world’s marine biodiversity. This corridor is home to many of the world’s rarest marine species, some of which are yet to be discovered. This protected strait is also sanctuary to some of the world’s critically threatened species like the Hawksbill sea turtle. The Verde Island Passage undeniably plays an indispensable role in the survival of the sea and its wonderful creatures.
Apart from being at the center of the center of world biodiversity, the Verde Island Passage is the lifeblood that sustains the economy of the surrounding areas. Its marine ecosystem, now threatened by the impacts of destructive human activities and climate change, provides a rich and steady supply of fish and other aquatic resources which overflow from the borders of the channel and spread outside allowed fishing grounds. Breathtaking in beauty, the waters of the Verde Island Passage is also a tourist magnet for underwater enthusiasts and is likewise an unimaginably endless laboratory for sea experts and marine researchers.
As I have mentioned last week in this same column, the stakes in this Mindoro oil spill are extremely high, and it becomes even higher the longer we keep the MT Princess Empress leaking and immersed in the sea. Fear continues to take grip of those whose life and sustenance depends on the survival of the sea and its many gifts. Their hope is now as murky as the oil slithering their sands and seas. We cannot allow the reckless imprudence of some smother the life out of the once peaceful and growing communities in the affected areas. Whether it be business entities or government agencies or both, those whose negligence led to this enduring threat to our marine treasures and the lives of our people will serve their time, and that justice, as always, will prevail.