THE Asean Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) has underscored the need for governments to integrate coral reefs and seagrass in its coastal ecosystem-rehabilitation program to strengthen defenses against storm surges.
Director Sheila Vergara of the ACB’s Biodiversity Information Management said that, in fact, coral reefs are the first line of defense of coastal communities against storm surges.
Speaking during the ACB’s Biodiversity Reporting 101 symposium at a hotel in Mandaluyong City recently, Vergara said that, like mangroves, corals and seagrass cushion the impact of storm surges before they hit the coastal communities. Without all three coastal or marine ecosystems, communities along the country’s coastlines are at risk of being swept away, she said.
Vergara started her career as a marine biologist and a professor at the University of the Philippines Los Baños campus.
Vergara spoke about sources of biodiversity information in the Asean during the symposium, wherein she also spoke about the importance of protecting what she describe as habitat-building species.
“In addition to being species themselves, corals, seagrasses and mangroves, they become habitat for a particular group of species. They have similar functions. The need to conserve them when they are next to each other is much higher than conserving any of them independently,” she said.
Together, she said corals, seagrasses and mangroves serve as breeding grounds and nurseries for certain species of fish, allowing them to grow and replenish the seas with abundant supply of food.
“Mangroves may be the last stand, but it is always better to conserve these habitat-building species altogether,” she said.
She said communities, as well as governments, should consider investing in protecting and rehabilitating damaged corals and seagrass areas the same way that they invest in mangrove tree-planting activities.
However, she cautioned against planting or growing the wrong species, which, she said, will not work.
The ACB is advocating the restoration of these habitat-building species naturally, meaning the restoration should specifically pick species that do not deviate from what used to exist in a particular area, by restoring the same species of corals, seagrasses and mangroves, including their structures or layers found in the area to be rehabilitated or restored.
She said that, by maintaining a healthy marine or coastal ecosystem, which is composed of corals, seagrasses and mangroves forests, destructive impacts of storm surge and sea-level rise will be effectively reduced, saving lives of people living in coastal communities.