TACLOBAN CITY — The call to preserve a rich biodiversity site in Southern Leyte progressed significantly after the House of Representatives passed on third and final reading the measure declaring the area as a protected seascape under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act.
If passed into law, comprehensive protection measures for the diverse ecosystems within the over 60,000 hectares of waters surrounding Panaon Island at the tip of Southern Leyte will be instituted — such as formulation of a management plan and strengthened regulations to prevent overfishing, illegal fishing, habitat destruction, and other activities detrimental to the marine environment.
The measure — principally authored by Southern Leyte representatives Christopherson Yap and Luz Mercado of the second and first districts, respectively — has 106 co-authors including Speaker Martin Romualdez and Natural Resources Committee chair Elpidio Barzaga Jr. The bill was approved by the House last 29 November.
Environmental advocacy group Oceana, which lobbies for its passage into law, said the declaration of Panaon Island Protected Seascape sets the framework that will ensure sustainable ecotourism and livelihood activities that balance socio-economic development with conservation efforts.
The Panaon Island Protected Seascape covers the municipalities of Liloan, San Francisco, Pintuyan and San Ricardo in the Province of Southern Leyte. It has coral reefs with up to 60 percent of very good coral cover, way above the national average of around 20 percent and is home to endangered species listed under the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species like whale sharks and sea turtles.
Oceana vice president Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos said the declaration of Panaon Island as a protected seascape is supported by different national agencies, local government units, Fisheries Management Area 8 Management Body, nongovernment organizations, community leaders and artisanal fisherfolk.