Senate commits funding for coral restoration projects amid China's alleged reef harvesting

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 21) – Senator Francis Tolentino said his chamber was committed to funding projects geared towards coral restoration amid China’s alleged destruction of reefs in the West Philippine Sea – an act which could worsen environmental damage in coastal areas.

The military and Philippine Coast Guard suspect that Beijing was responsible for the dead reefs and crushed corals seen in Rozul Reef and the Escoda Shoal after Chinese vessels were sighted over these areas.

During the Department of Science and Technology’s 2024 budget deliberation, Tolentino said the Senate would support coral restoration initiatives after it came out that the destruction of the marine habitats could lead to coastal area damage.

Citing academic papers on corals and their role in natural wave prevention, the senator asked the agency if reef destruction could intensify the effects of tsunamis and coastal erosion.

DOST Chief Renato Solidum agreed that coral reefs played a major role in mitigating wave erosion in coastal areas.

“Several years ago President [Rodrigo] Duterte stopped operations in Boracay," Solidum shared. "Boracay was actually a disaster in the making, because the corals were being destroyed by the algae."

“The corals actually prevent the wave erosion and corals supplied the sand in Boracay," he continued. "The net effect when the corals died, there has been more than 20 meters of erosion in Boracay because of the destruction of corals."

However, when it comes to waves generated by tsunamis, Solidum said corals could theoretically minimize these but because the reefs in the country are submerged and narrow, their effects would be minimal when compared to other natural barriers such as mangrove forests.

Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology chief Teresito Bacolcol said, “If you have eight to ten meter tsunami wave heights, I don't think may significant effect yung mga corals natin [our corals have a significant effect].”

“Structures that are above the sea level sila yung may malaking impact doon sa pag-dissipate ng pag-reduce ng [are the ones which have major impact in dissipating] tsunami waves.”

On top of damage to the environment and marine life, maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal told CNN Philippines that coral reef harvesting could deal a huge blow to fisheries in the West Philippine Sea, leading to major impact on the country’s food security.

Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri earlier said he asked the upper chamber’s finance panel to earmark ₱600 million for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ establishment of marine ranger stations in key coastal areas to protect the country’s coral reefs.

CNN Philippines’ correspondent Eimor Santos contributed to this report.