Advocates seek protection for biodiversity center

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Protect VIP, a coalition of communities, sectors, and environmentalists seeking the protection of Verde Island Passage (VIP), on Monday reiterated their appeal for the government to include the maritime feature under coverage provided for by the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System or ENIPAS Act.

VIP is home to 1,736 species of fish, one of the highest concentrations of marine biodiversity in the world.

“The Verde Island Passage is one of the most beautiful areas of the ocean in the world. Home to 1,736 species of fish and thousands more of other aquatic life forms, this area provides ₱1.2 billion worth of fish and ₱5.2 billion in tourism revenues to Batangas alone. It is a critical nursery for the fish we eat and a source of livelihood for over two million Filipinos. There is no better place where you can see how nature provides so much for so many. It should be placed under the protection of ENIPAS to ensure that VIP continues to provide for many more generations of Filipinos,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Protect VIP Lead Convenor.

The ENIPAS law provides a legal framework to ensure the ecological integrity of protected areas.

“The Philippines has lost much of its biodiversity through the government’s neglect in the past. We should do everything we can to keep what remains. There is no reason not to include VIP under ENIPAS, as it fulfills all the criteria that are required,” said Gerry Arances, Executive Director of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) and co-convenor of Protect VIP.

The area is under threat from pollution caused by LNG projects and the transit of ships carrying oil, chemicals, and other toxic substances. Advocates have long warned that the construction of LNG facilities in the surrounding provinces increases the risk of oil spills in addition to the pollution caused by fossil fuel power plants.

“MT Princess Empress is a reminder of the threat posed by large-scale industrial activity in this area. 900,000 liters of industrial oil are now leaking into the waters of VIP, with the government slow to act both in stopping the leak and helping the citizens affected by the spill. This incident is poisoning fish and other aquatic life forms in the VIP and will continue to do so for many years to come. Unless something drastic is done, like putting VIP under ENIPAS, we are sure this will not be the only oil spill to happen here. We must move to clean up the spill and we must move to make sure this spill will not have a sequel,” said Gariguez.