Friday, June 18, 2010

Saving the APO REEF - the Jetsetting Way

by WWF - Philippines


APO REEF - Home of the Turtles 
 A diver gently follows an endangered Hawksbill
Photo credit: WWF - Philippines 

Even in the tumult of the monsoon season, Apo Reef in Occidental Mindoro looks toward bright skies. Bright skies shine on the Philippines' Largest Coral Reef as the generosity of thousands of airline passengers is ushering in a brighter future for Apo Reef - the world's second-largest coral reef and a virtual food factory for Mindoro and Northern Palawan.

Situated 15 nautical miles west of Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro, Apo Reef remains one of the most significant reef complexes within the Coral Triangle - spanning a whopping 27,469 hectares. It is home to almost 200 species of soft and hard coral, 385 species of fish plus charismatic undersea giants like thresher and hammerhead sharks, manta rays, sperm whales, dolphins and migrating sea turtles.


APO ISLE
Photo credit: WWF-Philippines


Protecting the Jewel of Mindoro

Sadly, the 1970s brought with it dynamite, cyanide, muro-ami and strobe-fishing. "You would hear 25 to 30 dynamite blasts daily," notes former DENR Protected Area asst. Superintendent Robert Duquil. In the 1980s the international diving community lost interest in the area.

Human exploitation has since been compounded by a more serious threat in the form of stronger typhoons, El Niño episodes and other destructive climate effects. According to a recent WWF report, coral reefs may disappear from the Coral Triangle by the end of the century  and the ability of the region to feed people may decline by 80% if no effective action is taken.

"Thirty years ago the park was one of the world's premier diving destinations," recalls former Sablayan Mayor Godofredo Mintu. "It was much more than a dive destination - it was a vast fishing ground. Even during the height of its destruction in the 1980s, you could still catch a basket-load of fish in minutes. It truly was the jewel of Mindoro."

In 2007, Apo Reef was declared a 'no-take zone', allowing the reef and its residents ample time to recover from years of fishing. Positive spillover effects are now being felt, with fish sizes and yields rising.


Bright Skies for Every Juan & Juana

Cebu Pacific (CEB), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Philippines) and the municipality of Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro entered into a partnership to try to save the Apo Reef. Dubbed "Bright Skies for Every Juan" the resulting eco-collaboration enjoins CEB passengers to take an active part in minimizing the environmental impacts of air travel by making an online donation to a climate change adaptation project in and around the country's largest coral reef.

"We are promoting responsible air travel," says CEB Marketing and Distribution Vice-president Candice Iyog. "The Bright Skies programme not only prepares residents of Sablayan and other Filipino coastal municipalities for more pronounced typhoons, floods and other climate impacts - it also makes our passengers realize that minimizing ecological impacts can be easily integrated into their daily lives."

The partnership began in July 2008 and has provided the coastal municipality with a powerful patrol boat for apprehending poachers. Enforcement operations have thus far netted 15 park violators. Today, the program centers on building resilience by efficiently identifying and protecting marine zones, promoting sustainable seafood harvest; developing promising ecotourism sites and educating the local community on how best to protect and reap the rewards of the sea.

Thus far, CEB passengers have donated over P4 million - ensuring the survival and productivity of the area for years to come. Plans are now being crafted to replicate the scheme for the Tubbataha Reefs in Palawan.

"Cebu Pacific's decision to spearhead climate adaptation is a prime example of private-sector leadership," says WWF-Philippines CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan. "At the end of the day however, the most crucial decisions - that to consciously do what we can to reduce our impacts - lie in our own hands. We all have a responsibility to our planet. We can start today. We must."

Both CEB and WWF-Philippines invite travelers to donate to the Bright Skies for Every Juan program when booking via www.cebupacificair.com. From 1 to 30 June 2010, donors will get a chance to win two round-trip tickets to any domestic CEB destination, plus limited-edition WWF merchandise. The raffle draw shall be conducted on 9 July 2010.

(PRESS RELEASE from WWF-Philippines, 17 June 2010)

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For more information on the Bright Skies for Every Juan Program, kindly visit the Cebu Pacific website: www.cebupacificair.com/wwfbrightskies. Know more about WWF-Philippines and their efforts to conserve the environment. Visit www.wwf.org.ph for more information or to help, go to www.wwf.org.ph/donate.

Ridge to Reef Beauty - Bright skies paint Apo Isle with a thousand lovely hues of turquoise and jade. Flyers who donate to the Bright Skies Project will get a chance to fly to any domestic CEB destination- including Occidental Mindoro, home of Apo Reef. (WWF-Philippines / Gregg Yan)

Flyers who donate to the Bright Skies Project will get a chance to fly to any domestic CEB destination - including Occidental Mindoro, the home of Apo Reef. (WWF-Philippines / Mark Limchoa)


For further information:

Mayj Tolentino
Individual Donors Progamme Manager, WWF-Philippines
mtolentino@wwf.org.ph

Gregg Yan
Information, Education and Communications Officer, WWF-Philippines
920-7923/26/31

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