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Report: Coral Gathering Unabated in the Southern Philippines Despite Ban; 'What the Sea has Belongs to Us'

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ZAMBOANGA, The Philippines -- Fishermen continue to gather and sell sea corals to local collectors and tourists in the southern Philippine port city of Zamboanga despite a government ban and efforts to stop the illegal activities.

Corals are rocklike deposit consisting of the calcareous skeletons secreted by various anthozoans. Coral deposits often accumulate to form reefs or islands in warm seas and it's red-orange, pinkish, or white deposits secreted by the genus Corallium are used to make jewelry and ornaments.

"We gather these corals to sell, you know many people buy them as souvenirs because they are beautiful. It's very cheap, only one hundred pesos a piece," said one fishermen, Umay.

Despite a government ban on the collection and selling or exports of sea corals, fishermen continue their illegal activities.

Presidential Decree 1219, amended by PD 1698, bans coral gathering, but many people break off and collect corals to sell as decorative item, according to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, a line agency of the Department of Agriculture.

"What ban, who says we cannot gather corals? These belong to the sea and what the sea has belongs to us, these are free, just like the fishes in the ocean. We buy our food from selling these corals," another fisherman said.

Coral has many uses, ranging from medicinal purposes to food supplies to protecting coastlines from storms and erosion, but it has increasingly become exploited, in products such as filler for concrete, souvenirs from gift shops, and decorations for homes and aquarium. The reef has become an endangered habitat.

The Philippine coral reef area, the second largest in Southeast Asia and home of many sea animals and plants, is estimated at 26,000 square kilometers and holds an extraordinary diversity of species. Scientists have identified at least 915 reef fish species and more than 400 scleractinian coral species, 12 of which are endemic, according to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

But government agencies managing coral reefs in the country are generally understaffed and insufficiently funded for effective management and monitoring.

Many laws and regulations concerning coral reefs already exist, including bans on cyanide fishing, blast fishing, and the collection or export of hard (Scleractinia) corals. However, these laws are not adequately enforced.

source: http://www.sunstar.com.ph

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