Sunday, April 14, 2024

“Fish, Profit, Planet in One Dome”

By Keisiah Dawn T. Tiaoson | September 8, 2023

The natural world has its own balance in terms of temperature, quantity, and distribution. It holds a web-like connection between species and their habitats that must be considered in an holistic manner. Everything was designed harmoniously, until the demands of convenience and tourism came in. 

Such demands disrupted the delicate balance of nature, making some species endangered and some animals hungry for food. But ultimately, these demands gave birth to the Earth’s rapid increase in temperature—the root cause of havoc.

Rising temperatures increase the risk of irreversible loss of marine biological systems. Today, global warming is so evident that it has contributed to the rearrangement of marine biodiversity, inflicting harm to the coral reefs and mangroves that help sea life flourish and the migration of cold-blooded species.

This rearrangement is taken very seriously by the marine scientists of Silliman University, a university beside the sea. The university, fueled by its commitment to the environment, devoted its time to mitigating this problem.  

What actions are being done?

Marine biologist Dr. Aileen Maypa of Silliman University’s Institute of Environmental and Marine Sciences (SU – IEMS)  spearheaded the fight against climate disasters and its effects on marine species by being the principal investigator of the Reef Dome Deployment Project in the Marine Reserves of Dumaguete City.

This initiative deploys man-made fish habitats in the form of cement molds placed at the bottom of the thoroughly selected marine reserves. These domes are patterned after the domes of Australia, which—unlike artificial reefs—are made up of concrete materials and not tires, making them more durable. Since the material used does not release toxic chemicals upon breaking down, these reef domes are more accepted in the scientific community.

Starting from the Bantayan Marine Sanctuary, Maypa’s team worked together with Kahugpungan para sa Kinabuhi ug Kinaiyahan Inc., Bank of the Philippine Island – Bayan (BPI – Bayan), and the fisherfolks of Dumaguete City. Their efforts came in response to the cries of humans, marine species, and the planet all in one. But just how can reef domes make such a large impact?

How can this project benefit the web-like connection of species?

Reef domes provide an avenue for marine life to thrive in a secured and stress-free manner. They are effective in fulfilling this purpose because they imitate the natural environment such marine life once enjoyed. These domes too, though man-made, host the rehabilitation of corals that would soon transform into reefs. 

In the process of securing habitats for marine life, nature maintains its balance. The food web won’t be disrupted, as such habitats will  foster smaller fishes, which will serve as food for bigger species and humans.

This relationship addresses climate change as well. With primary food sources, food production may be more environmentally efficient by eliminating various manufacturing processes. As such, carbon footprints lessen, which is a positive step for addressing the climate’s global issue. 

More than that, these domes that will act as fish habitats can provide a place for the reproduction process of fishes. These fish are not only significant for human consumption, but part of the great food web. Some creatures are totally dependent on them. They must be taken care of first before addressing greater problems such as the extinction of several marine species. It may take a long time for fishes to reproduce in certain areas, but the habitat will certainly serve as its nest and home since its deployment. 

The deployment of these domes does not only cover the needs of the marine species. These domes also help marine ecotourism. It became a platform for many fishermen to gain income. Furthermore, since the domes are open for public viewing, those who wish to dive must be assisted by a local fisherfolk. 

Improving the livelihood of fisherfolk  through marine ecotourism was part of why they started the reef dome deployment project, according to Dr. Maypa. This is why the project was thoroughly planned after her personal encounter with fishermen who asked for her help in enhancing their livelihood. 

Domes are so cool! Can these be deployed anywhere?

Dr Maypa highlighted that, though this project is a win in the aspects of tourism, marine biodiversity, and climate action, domes must not be deployed in any area without thorough research and investigation. The areas in which the domes are placed must be strictly evaluated and monitored. 

“You have to monitor it, and then, if they don’t work… if they are doing more harm… then remove it. Do not leave it,” Dr. Maypa further explained. 

Furthermore, this rehabilitation project must not be used as a toolkit to further damage the marine ecosystem. People must not think that it can just be replaced with this technique. The natural environment, no matter how advanced the scientific innovations are, must always be preserved and protected.  

“No matter what you do, if you can protect the primary habitat, protect it,” she emphasized. 

Marine habitats play a great role in maintaining the symbiotic relationship of species both on land and under the seas. Such habitats are the home of people’s food, while the organisms living there have been there for so long that they can never be replaced in a snap even with scientific innovations. As such, damaging the source of food for consumption can directly impact the lives of people who benefit from it and also the other species that depend on it.

Currently, Dr Maypa and her team are finding more appropriate locations for further expansion of this project. She highlighted the need for meticulous research and strict area evaluation in implementing such a project. Also, the designs of the domes must be properly planned before deploying them. Dr. Maypa warned that this project must not be done impulsively, but must be studied by experts in a certain period before implementation. 

As King Mufasa from “The Lion King” stated, “Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance.” All creatures, both great and small, benefit from each other. Small disruptions bring the threat of destruction. Thus, it is time to reevaluate the choices of oneself, as one is a part of this great web of life.

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