(SPOT.ph) As forecasted by expert simulation, the Mindoro oil spill reached Verde Island in Batangas on Monday morning, March 20. This was confirmed by Philippine Coast Guard Batangas station commander Captain Victorino Acosta. Initial reports say that the sighting is in Barangay San Agapito in Isla Verde.
MT Princess Empress, which was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil, capsized in the waters off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro on February 28. The oil spill immediately reached the coastal areas of Oriental Mindoro and Antique with most coastal barangays under a state of calamity. The University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute has been following trajectory model forecasts to determine at-risk areas, including the Verde Island Passage—known as the global center of marine biodiversity.
Why the Oriental Mindoro Oil Spill Is Not Just Mindoro's Problem
Human Hair or Coconut Fiber: What's Better for Cleaning Up Oil Spills?
Verde Island as a Center of Biodiversity
The Verde Island Passage, a strait that separates the islands of mainland Luzon and Mindoro islands and connects the West Philippine Sea with Tayabas Bay and Sibuyan Sea, is one of the richest marine environments in the world. In fact, in a 2005 published study by American marine biologists Kent Carpenter and Victor G. Springer, the Philippine islands—particularly the Verde Island Passage—were dubbed "center of the center of marine shorefish biodiversity."
The research compared Verde Island Passage (VIP) with Pulau Bintan in Indonesia, which is also part of the world's Coral Triangle like the Philippines. However, our waters still fare better when it comes to species concentration and biodiversity. The 10-square-kilometer area is also regarded as the "marine counterpart of the Amazon River basin" as it is home to over 1,000 species. This includes more than 300 coral species, 32 mangrove species, 20 seagrass species, over a hundred fish species, and other endemic and endangered species.
While its waters are already home to incredible biodiversity, Verde Island itself is also home to endemic trees like the Philippine teak, dungon, and molave; and threatened wildlife like flying foxes and giant fruit bats.
Verde Island as an Economic Center
According to Conservation International, VIP benefits over two million people, not just the residents in the area. It is "the backbone of the local economy, thriving upon coastal tourism, fisheries, and as a shipping route to the international ports of Batangas, Manila, and Subic Bay," their website said.
Its waters directly provide food on the table of the locals and livelihood among the fisherfolks. It also provides breeding grounds for other species of fish that migrate to nearby waters.
Verde Island has also become a vital area for marine-based tourism, including snorkeling and diving activities and island-hopping tours.
What the Oil Spill Means for Verde Island
Just like its effects in Oriental Mindoro and Antique, the oil slick that has reached Verde Island will most likely affect the supply of fish—and, thus, the food and livelihood of locals. It will also result in health issues among the residents, such as short-term symptoms of headache and dizziness. Exposure to oil through the air may aggravate existing respiratory conditions, while drinking contaminated water may result in vomiting and diarrhea.
In a previous SPOT.ph interview, University of the Philippine - Marine Science Institute associate professor Dr. Irene B. Rodriguez said that "the long-term impacts will come from prolonged exposure to the oil spill, which we have to prevent from happening, that may lead to [the] death of marine organisms including keystone species such as corals, seagrasses, and mangroves that are present in wide areas in the coasts that are projected to be affected by the spill."
Given that the Verde Island Passage is the "center of the center of marine shorefish biodiversity," one can only imagine what would happen should the oil spill seepage not be stopped immediately.
UPDATED (March 22, 10:40 a.m.): According to the latest UP-MSI bulletin dated March 21, the "oil spill trajectory model forecasts that spill will flow through the Verde Island passage for the rest of the week." This movement is due to the westward currents along northern Mindoro towards the Passage. "Winds are weaker, more variable, and shifting to easterlies (or winds coming from the east) blowing to the west through the VIP this week. Due to weakening winds, oil slicks with larger areas are able to form. These slicks may be brought by the wind to the VIP," the bulletin added.
A satellite image on March 19 also shows that oil is still leaking out of the sunken vessel.