By Gerry E. Tacio, Jr.
Come July, my uncle will be writing reports on the status of coral reefs not only in the Philippines but in other parts of the world as well. He will write live from the place where the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) will take place: Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“This is the second time I will be covering such kind of symposium,” Henrylito D. Tacio, my father’s brother, told me in an exclusive interview. In 2000, he also attended the symposium held in Bali, Indonesia.
The Philippines hosted it in 1980. Other ICRS were held in Okinawa, Japan (2004), Panama (1996), Guam (1992), Australia (1988 and 1974)), United States (Tahiti in 1985 and Miami in 1977), and India (1969).
Tacio is the only Filipino journalist chosen by SeaWeb to attend the symposium. SeaWeb is a communications-based nonprofit organization that uses social marketing techniques to advance ocean conservation. “By raising public awareness, advancing science-based solutions and mobilizing decision-makers around ocean conservation, we are leading voices for a healthy ocean,” said the organization which sponsored my uncle’s forthcoming trip.
Aside from Tacio, two other journalists from Asia are given the same opportunity: Masanobu Fujiwara from Japan and Rina Mukherji from India. Other SeaWeb-sponsored journalists who will cover the event come from the United States (four of them), United Kingdom (Nick Atkinson of Entangled Science and Steve Connor of The Independent), and one each from the following countries: Australia, Canada, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Puerto Rico, and Kenya.
“It is a great honor for me to be part of the team of journalists from all over the world who bring news about the symposium not only in Davao but in Asia and other parts of the globe, too,” he says.
Tacio is a science journalist who writes regular features for Sun Star Davao. He also writes a regular column (Regarding Henry) and occasional tips on health (Health 101) and agriculture (Agribiz Jottings). He has been elevated to the Hall of Fame in science reporting by the Philippine Press Institute, the first and the only journalist who received the distinction.
In 1999, he was given the prestigious Journalist of the Year by the Rotary Club of Manila “for his remarkable expertise in the field of science and technology, agriculture and environmental journalism which is characterized by an extensive research as well as a commitment to the popularization of complex issues.”
Tacio is also a contributing editor for Southeast Asia for People and the Planet, a global educational resource, with outreach to 190 countries and territories and up to 2.5 million monthly hits. It is published by Planet 21, which was founded at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.
In addition, he is a correspondent (the only one from Davao) for the Asian edition of Reader’s Digest. “I would like him to have the opportunity to attend the conference to be able to bring back to Asia story ideas and a broader network of experts so he can cover the important stories about sustaining our reefs and coastal resources,” wrote Editor-in-Chief Jim Plouffe in his support the Tacio’s application for the symposium.
During the ICRS in Florida, Tacio will write current programs and researches being initiated to address the problems that threaten the most important international treasures – the coral reefs. “Degradation due to factors including pollution, overfishing, and climate change, threaten destruction of these ecosystems on an unprecedented global scale,” it said.
From all over the globe, scientists, policymakers, conservationists, and managers are exercising leadership in developing knowledge and implementing science-based strategies to address the crisis.
“Among the top ten coral reef hotspots in the world, the Philippines ranks number one, according to the degree of threat,” revealed Tacio, who has been writing coral reefs features and reports for various national and international publications. One of his articles – Coral Reefs of the Verge of Extinction – was chosen as one of the best science articles in the mid-1990s.
His claim has been supported by The World Atlas of Coral Reefs , which reported that 97 percent of reefs in the Philippines are under threat from destructive fishing techniques, including cyanide poisoning, over-fishing, or from deforestation and urbanization that result in harmful sediment spilling into the sea.
In 2007, Reef Check – an international organization assessing the health of reefs in 82 countries — stated that only five percent of the country’s coral reefs are in “excellent condition.” These are the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park in Palawan, Apo Island in Negros Oriental, Apo Reef in Puerto Galera, Mindoro, and Verde Island Passage off Bagatangas.
“We have to do something now to save our coral reefs from vanishing in this part of the world,” Tacio urges.
Tacio is looking forward to be in Florida again. With the longest coastline of the 48 contiguous states, 41 aquatic preserves and three of the nation’s National Estuarine Research Reserves, Florida is undeniably an ocean state.
“I have been to Florida once – in the state’s capital, Tallahassee,” he says. “But I have never been the sea. So, I am excited to talk with coral reefs experts and stakeholders during the symposium. I am also looking forward for the field trips that we will do. I am sure it will be a new experience for me.” — ###