The Youth Engaged in Wetlands is disheartened to hear about the current oil spill situation in the Philippines which has negatively impacted the coastal waters and the members of the coastal communities.
In context, the oil spill took place on February 28, 2023 in Tablas Strait in the province of Oriental Mindoro when a tanker carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel capsized because of straining due to overheating and it got exacerbated due to the heavy currents brought by the strait. The tanker then sank and the oil spill happened and it has reached neighboring coastal towns and even the islands of Antique and Palawan which are already far from the Tablas Strait where the incident happened.
The impacts of the oil spill have already been reported. Socially, the coastal communities who are exposed to the oil spill have been shown to have high health risks and some were reported to have neurological and respiratory problems such as nausea and inability to breathe, respectively. The most vulnerable from the exposure are the senior citizens, pregnant women, children, and the immunocompromised which can exacerbate their existing health problems.
As for the environment, there have been sightings of fish kills and dead birds because of the oil spill. The reported fish kills are the commercially-important fishes and shellfishes that are being captured by the small-scale fisherfolk groups and the local government is banning them to fish because of the oil spill incident because consuming them is unsafe for humans. In addition, the sea birds are also at risk because they forage in the seas and if their feathers get contact with the oil, this would destroy their feather’s repellency making them unable to fly and also lead to hypothermia and resulting in death. Moreover, there is a projection from the University of the Philippines - Marine Science Institute that 36,000 hectares of mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs will be negatively impacted by the said oil spill. These coastal habitats are important in mitigating the impacts of climate change by sequestering atmospheric carbon and these are also homes to numerous wildlife. The ecosystem services provided by our exposed coastal habitats will be lost if these are destroyed by the oil spill. It is also noted that the oil spill took place within the coastal waters of the Verde Island Passage which is the global center of marine biodiversity inside the Coral Triangle. It is ultimately important to protect this marine area as this is a critical source of livelihood and food to millions of Filipinos who depend on the seas.
As mentioned, the fisherfolk groups are now unable to fish because of the oil spill and this has made them lose their main source of livelihood which is capture fisheries. The fisherfolk communities are among the poorest sectors in the country yet they contribute largely to food security in both local and national levels. Filipinos also use fish as their main source of protein but with the recent tragedy, it has affected the diet of many Filipinos leading to changes in food intake.
As a youth organization, we at Youth Engaged in Wetlands, demand the following for the protection of the exposed coastal waters and communities:
Immediate response in containing the oil spill. The oil spill which was thought to only reach the province of Oriental Mindoro has already been found in the provinces of Antique and Palawan. It is also worthy to note that the province of Antique thrives because of its seaweed industry and the oil spill can impact it especially the seaweed workers. In addition, Palawan is considered to be Philippines’ last ecological frontier with high concentration of flora and fauna for both aquatic and terrestrial biomes and the effects of the oil spill can directly impact its environment
Call for further protection of the Verde Island Passage. This marine corridor should be included in the ENIPAS (Expanded National Integrated Protected Area Systems) Act to prevent any further damages that will take a long period to recover just like the oil spill.
Provide relief packs and financial assistance for the affected communities. The negative effects are interconnected and the people who depend on the coastal areas as their sources of livelihood are at risk from all aspects.
Demand accountability from the owners of the tanker and the oil. They should be responsible in compensating for the loss and damages brought by the oil spill that has affected numerous coastal communities coming from different coastal provinces in the country.
These demands will ultimately safeguard the healthy marine ecosystems of the country and provide a sustainable environment for the Filipino fisherfolk communities.