Rama: Joey Gatus’ paradox

·2 min read

At an online gathering of fellows under the Development Entrepreneurship Program (http://developmententrepreneurship.org), Cebu-based marine biologist Joey Gatus presented his peers with something of a paradox.

In addressing environmental concerns, is it better to stop intervening if human intervention runs the risk of making things worse, or is it best to just do nothing, in the hope that things get better on their own?

The backdrop to this point in his discussion is the flurry of underwater conservation activities being undertaken by both government and private entities — some done in partnership with each other and some as stand-alone initiatives — following December 2021’s Typhoon Odette.

That tropical cyclone wiped out many, if not most, reef systems accessible from the shore. I was able to visit certain areas in Lapu-Lapu City, Barili and Moalboal weeks after the typhoon, and the scenes were horrifying, to say the least.

Reefs, apart from sustaining marine life, are also the lifeblood of the individuals that collectively comprise the diving industry. With their livelihood in peril, of course the entire affected community will come together and act.

In one popular diving area in Lapu-Lapu City, for example, a group that banded together at the start of the pandemic to do cleanups while dive shops were closed, expanded their work to coral fragment relocation after the typhoon.

One well-known resort also tapped “an eco-organization and a movement of sustainable efforts” to do a coral restoration project meters off their beachfront, in partnership with volunteer divers from the Philippine Navy.

The Department of Tourism, for its part, did a cleanup and coral planting activity in Moalboal two months after the typhoon as part of its Dive7 series of activities. They also did a smaller cleanup in cooperation with a Mactan resort early this month.

So, if activities like this are underway, and we’re seeing individuals contributing their time, effort, and money to revive coral reefs, why would a marine biologist like Joey Gatus present his peers with a paradox?

The context is a video posted on social media showing an unnamed diver hammering at a living head of branching coral to get fragments for planting, when pieces of broken coral already suitable for transfer were already present on the seafloor.

A video gives impressions but it will be foolhardy to base everything at face value. For all we know, the coral fragments on the seafloor were all not suitable for the purpose, hence the need to chip away at a healthy head.

But for Joey Gatus, who has done tons of work on reef management, including computing the amount of human activity that should be allowed within a protected area, there should at least be a set of rules imposed to guide everyone working in the reefs to avoid harm.

That involves policy reform. Fortunately, they do a lot of that in DE.

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