Sunday, November 16, 2003
Council calls for preservation of Sta. Cruz Islands
By Letty M. Militante - Sun Star Zamboanga
THE City Council called on the Department of Tourism (DOT) together with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to act on the destruction of marine resources at the Sta. Cruz Islands.
This call came by way of a resolution sponsored by City Councilor Edmundo Rodriguez, who asked that concerned agencies — particularly DOT and DENR-stop blast fishermen from destroying fish coral.
Rodriguez said authorities should go after people who destroy the natural habitat and other marine animals and resources in these islands.
He said a Presidential Decree declared the Sta. Cruz Islands a "protected area" or a reservation under the direct supervision and care of the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA).
The DENR is also tasked to look into these protected areas with the help of the Zamboanga City Police Office (ZCPO) and other law enforcement agencies in the city.
Editor's Note: It would be wise for all those concerned to note the environmental difference between "preservation" and "restoration". To preserve what is currently existing in the Great Santa Cruz Island means letting the ugly remnants of coral skeletons with no colorful marine life existence be the only concern.
However, more prudently and humanly responsible, the dead coral life must be "restored" through active human intervention. There needs to be an introduction of a proactive process to restore the coral reef life by implanting concrete "housings," or something similar, for the corals to re-establish themselves and vigorous policing of the renewal area afterwards. Ultimately, the restoration project's caretakers must introduce and expand an educational awareness of locals who are prone to destroying the coral reefs for their livelihood and implement alternative fishing harvest methods that can co-exist with the reintroduction of a coral reef. The end result would be a double-positive for productive local tourism and its affiliated fishing livelihood.
Ultimately, we urge the Mayor and the City government to make a tough decision in declaring both Great Santa Cruz and Little Santa Cruz Islands, which are legally owned by the city but is now being "managed" by the Philippine government's Department of Tourism (DOT) as a remnant of Marcos' Martial Law Regime's possession of them, a City Marine Preserve wherein NO active fishing or harvesting of any type of marine life whatsoever will be allowed within, say, a 5-Kilometer radius. Delineation and warning buoys with night strobe lights should be installed to mark the perimeter boundary of this city island marine sanctuary. All vessel traffic plying the busy sea lanes around Zamboanga, the #1 vessel passenger port traffic in the Philippines, will be mandated by law to deviate from entering the marked boundary of the Santa Cruz Islands Marine Sanctuary, providing legal assistance to the critical restoration of the ancient coral reef system that helps provide Zamboanga its marine sustenance and identity. Since the Santa Cruz Islands belong to the City of Zamboanga, the city police will need to police the island sanctuary day and night to prevent any illegal fishing or mining of marine life there (the City should have police patrol boats since two-thirds of its valuable assets is adjoining the surrounding sea). Also, the people who have illegally squatted on the city's island property, but have been unwisely allowed to do so, have increased into tremendous numbers unabated. Their human refuse and garbage are illegally dumped into the delicate water of the island and causing additional damage to the surrounding marine life! These "squatters" will need to be evicted and properly relocated elsewhere, away from the islands. There should be none of their type of open sewer system allowed ever again in the islands' marine sanctuary zone!
When these preservation and restoration measures are legally implemented, the islands should still be made available to private investors for proper eco-tourism development of the islands. The Little Santa Cruz Island, with its pristine white-sand beach, sand bars and lagoon, is an untapped eco-tourism resource for the city because it is currently occupied by a small Philippine military garrison. The rare pink sand beach of Great Santa Cruz Island stretches for about 10 miles or so around it like a precious necklace, and at their connecting junction is a wide enough inlet that allows the rich marine waters of Basilan Straights to flood its extensive lagoon and delicate marshland interior, making it another lesser-known marine and bird sanctuary. The Micronesian Megapode was numerous there once as early as a century of so ago, according to samples taken by American and British survey ships, but is now extinct. In the Great Santa Cruz Island Lagoon, one can observe hundreds of red crabs nesting just a short distance unto a small parcel of its interior landscape. It would be interesting to see a picture of these numerous red crabs at night as that is the time they are most active in their exploration of the marsh flats - it would be like a sea of red! (They would blend in nicely on the adjacent pink sand).
There are many types of fish and marine life that nest inside the Greater Santa Cruz island's lagoon and marshland basin, with its mangrove forest ecosystem providing valuable sheltered habitat to its myriad of visitors and residents, and they all need to be studied and monitored by local scientists and experts. The value and impact of the Santa Cruz Islands marine ecosystem on the entire region of Zamboanga is a serious unknown to, dare we say, the entire city! A marine laboratory would be a great addition to the island's future development and can be a major eco-tourism attraction, and be part of a local university's curriculum specializing in marine science, showcasing the uniquely diverse marine life of Zamboanga's peninsula location - we'll call it: Santa Cruz Island Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. The Santa Cruz Island Aquarium alone would be a spectacular eco-tourism attraction, providing visitors and scientists a venue to appreciate and study the area's coral reef system and abundant marine species, many of which are endemic, that share its population proliferation from the adjoining Celebes Sea/Moro Gulf and Sulu Sea, helping make Zamboanga the #1 maritime capital of the Philippines.
The ignorance or lack of care for all these beautiful and dying gifts of nature is a global shame directed straight at the Mayor's office for lack of awareness and action. Nevertheless, all is not lost when proper preservation, restoration and investment are implemented, the end result can be an island paradise that is unlike anything else in the world. The best of both worlds of nature and humanity an coexist beautifully and benefit each other in a symbiotic existence.
***View more beautiful photos of Greater Santa Cruz Island's "Pink Sand Beach" here!
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