Ceramic reef for El Nido’s sea rainforests

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Reforestation is going on under water in El Nido, a world-renowned dive site and threatened fishing ground.

Environmentalists have installed ceramic coral reefs-or EcoReefs-near Tres Marias, a cluster of limestone cliffs jutting out of Bacuit Bay to boost the growth of coral reefs, dubbed the rainforests of the sea.

On April 1, the El Nido Foundation and Seacology, a US-based nonprofit organization with conservation projects in 80 islands and 40 countries, brought in 100 modules of EcoReefs as part of its reef restoration program.

The world’s first artificial reef designed to rehabilitate damaged corals, EcoReefs are made of ceramic stoneware that is ideal for the settlement of corals and other invertebrates.

They are white ceramic modules shaped like a stag horn coral about the size of small coffee tables. Anchored on reef rubbles, these structures attract fishes and tiny polyps, the creatures that actually create coral reefs.

Home to 197 fish species

El Nido is only the second place in the world where Seacology has installed the EcoReefs. The first was in Bunaken National Marine Park in Indonesia.

“In the last 400 years, the majority of the world’s plant and animal extinctions have taken place on islands,” Seacology executive director Duane Silverstein said in a statement.

El Nido is home to 197 colorful and economically significant species of fish that thrive among its 100 species of corals, but blast fishing has decimated the corals and driven away marine life.

The threat to the marine ecosystem around the island has alarmed both local and international agencies as 70 percent of El Nido’s population depends on the coast for food and livelihood.

Seacology through the El Nido Foundation committed 630 EcoReef modules to facilitate reef restoration on the island. The next 530 modules will be mounted this May in an area covering 1,300 square meters.

No zones

Ten El Nido villages are also establishing no-take zones totaling approximately 2,000 acres to allow real reefs to grow on the artificial structures.

The World Wildlife Foundation-Philippines, which was involved in the planning, preparation and installation of the modules, is monitoring and evaluating the rehabilitation.

“The impact of the project will take about three years to evaluate, but the overwhelming support from all stakeholders hints that this may get a successful turnout,” RJ de la Calzada, WWF head of the El Nido Marine Environmental Protection Project, said.

The WWF will check after a few months if the structures were still intact and if the coral transplantation had increased the fish presence in the area.

In Indonesia, where the EcoReefs were first installed, the ceramic structures attracted large populations of fish within a few months. Fishes apparently used the branching arms of the structures for shelter.

EcoReefs are designed to break and collapse when the real corals grow stronger and take over the structure. Unlike sunken ships or tires, which are also used to rehabilitate crippled corals, EcoReefs do not leach toxins.

Critical condition

El Nido is speckled with 45 limestone islands that host 16 species of birds, four of the seven known species of sea turtles in the world, as well as the endangered dugong.

“We are expecting tougher patrolling efforts from the AFP, PNP, PAO and even fisherfolk so we can effectively measure the effect of the project without disturbances,” De la Calzada said.

About 95 percent of all coral reefs in the Philippines are in critical condition while only 5 percent are in excellent condition.

Put together, the world’s coral reefs cover an area only half the size of France, and they are so endangered that 70 percent of them will cease to be viable within 50 years, according to a Seacology report.

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer