The Verde Island Passage is a 10-square kilometer area that covers the shores of Batangas, Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Romblon, and Marinduque. It has the highest concentration of coastal fishes, corals, crustaceans, mollusks, seagrasses, and mangroves, and to endangered and threatened species, including the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, whale sharks, manta rays, dugongs, humphead wrasses, giant groupers, and giant clams.
In 2006, it was Dr. Kent Carpenter with ichthyologist Victor Springer who dubbed the Verde Island Passage as the "center of the center of marine shore fish biodiversity" because of its remarkable biodiversity.
Despite the VIP being the global hotspot of marine biodiversity, there is a lack of legal protection afforded to it, allowing it to be exposed to numerous threats from industrial and economic activities.
“The identification of the Philippines as the major center of marine biodiversity is troubling because of the heightened level of threat to marine environments there,” Carpenter and Springer reported in their study.
Today, the VIP is one of the Philippines’ busiest shipping corridors and is a hotspot of industrial developments. Marine life in the VIP is suffering from habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change, consequently impacting millions of Filipinos who depend on the VIP for their food, livelihood, and other benefits. The oil spill off the coasts of Oriental Mindoro is one of the latest blows to the health of the VIP, and places it at risk of irreversible and long-term damage. To make matters worse, a massive fleet of fossil gas power plants and LNG terminals are operating or in development in Batangas, increasing the possibility of a similar situation of this happening in the future.
Today marks the fourth month of the devastating oil spill in Oriental Mindoro, a timeframe which President Bongbong Marcos has called for this tragedy to be resolved. Even still, communities and coastal and marine life continue to suffer damages. There are also still no concrete policy or legislative measures put in place to ensure that no such disasters take place in the future.
“As a probable epicenter of allopatric speciation and island integration bioconcentration, it is imperative to conserve the habitats and diversity that can help us understand the processes of evolution that govern biodiversity in the marine realm. Clearly, marine conservation efforts in the Philippines warrant special attention,” Dr. Carpenter and his colleagues wrote in their study.
Last July 13, 2022, Sen. Cynthia Villar and Sen. Loren Legarda filed the Verde Island Passage Protected Seascape (VIPPS) Bill of 2022, seeking for the VIP to be declared as a protected seascape under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS), which encompasses “ecologically rich, unique and biologically important areas that are habitats of threatened species of plants and animals, biogeographic zones and related ecosystems, whether terrestrial, wetland or marine, all of which shall be designated as ‘protected areas’”. The proposal includes conservation, protection, management and rehabilitation of the VIP. However, the legislation of the said bill is yet to be approved.
The urgent need for the Verde Island Passage to be protected cannot be overstated. Protect VIP urges the national government to legislate the protection of the VIP and prioritize its rich marine biodiversity over ecosystem-damaging industries, preserving this global treasure for future generations to come.