A tragic crime that is being described as “the rape of the ocean” took place in the Philippines where poachers decimated an entire reef area almost twice the size of Manila harvesting over 21,000 pieces of black coral and killing 161 endangered sea turtles and other marine life.
Bureau of Customs officials intercepted the contraband two weeks ago and recovered 134 bundles, or 21,169 pieces, of “sea fan” black corals and 15 bundles, or 196 kilograms, of “sea whip” black corals that was taken from an area located off the coast of Cotabato province. Tragically one of the many turtles killed was a male with and estimated age of 80 to 100 years old.
“The Moro Gulf and the Sulu Sea off Cotabato are supposed to be unexplored reef areas but with this collection, we can see that they have also been disturbed,” said Ludivina Labe, a senior marine biologist of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
“It’s like a forest that has been cut down,” Labe said. “One reef complex was decimated.”
According to Labe, only a few colonies of black coral grow in one hectacre of sea floor. Since each piece of black coral represents one colony, they estimate the harvest area could be as large at 7,000 hectacres that is roughly twice the size of the city of Manila. To put this in U.S. perspective, Manila is around 1,399 sq. km in area roughly comparable to to Indianapolis or the entire San Francisco/Oakland area.
“These web-like colonial organisms are not lush or bushy. They’re found on reef walls or reef slopes. One piece is equal to one colony,” Labe said. “One piece of black coral is not just one organism. There are thousands of other organisms who live there.”
According to Theresa Mundita Lim, director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, said one of the turtles killed measured 40 inches and was aged “80 to 100 years old.”
“There were also small ones who were only juveniles or just 4 years old,” Lim said. “This is saddening because we have reduced this illegal trade and now we catch something as big as this.”
Officials are looking into giving some of the seized contraband to marine biology schools to study while the black coral, although already dead, could be returned later to the sea.
The rough market value of the seized contraband is around PHP 35 million or over $800,000 USD. Studies by the World Wildlife Fund estimate that the economic cost of over a 25-year period of destroying one kilometer of coral reef is somewhere between $137,000 and $1,200,000 USD. Black coral is harvested and used to make exotic jewelery.
Thanks Jerad for the heads up on this news.