QUEZON CITY, JULY 25 – SEA Institute VIP (SEA-VIP), the marine conservation arm of ABS-CBN Foundation, is thrilled to announce the official designation of the Verde Island Passage (VIP) as a Mission Blue “Hope Spot.” The VIP has been chosen for its critical contribution to the health of our oceans and the lives of coastal communities.

Mission Blue, a renowned international marine conservation nonprofit, is dedicated to global efforts for ocean exploration and protection through the promotion of critical marine areas known as “Hope Spots.”

To discuss further action in support of this international recognition, Hope Spot Champions Dr. Terrence Gosliner, Senior Curator at the California Academy of Sciences, and Dr. Wilfredo “Al” Licuanan, Center Director of the De La Salle University – Br. Alfred Shields Ocean Research Center (DLSU SHORE) met with Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Hon. Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga at the DENR Central Office.

“The communities in the frontlines and the stakeholders in the private sector, as well as the NGO community, are really important partners in preserving, conserving, protecting, and regenerating our reefs and oceans in general,” reiterated Hon. Loyzaga after the discussion. Talks of launching advocacy campaigns are in the works, in the hopes of helping Filipinos learn more about the beauty of the Verde Island Passage.

Also present in the meeting were Roberta Lopez-Feliciano, Managing Director of the ABS-CBN Foundation; Higino Dungo, ABS-CBN Foundation Consultant on Operations; Engr. Joseph Alfonso Ascalon, ABS-CBN Foundation Bantay Kalikasan Head; Robert Suntay, President of SEA-VIP, Dr. Miguel Azcuna from Batangas State University, Denise Alcantara from DLSU SHORE; DENR Asec. Marcial Amaro; and Asst. Director Armida Andres, Jhorace Tupas, and Joaquin Silvestre from the DENR Biodiversity Management Bureau.

In the middle, Hon. Loyzaga holds a certificate recognizing the Verde Island Passage as a Mission Blue Hope Spot.
IN PHOTO (L-R): Dr. Miguel Azcuna, Robert Suntay, Higino Dungo, Denise Alcantara, Engr. Joseph Alfonso Ascalon, Roberta Lopez Feliciano, Dr. Wilfredo “Al” Licuanan, Hon. Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga, Dr. Terrence Gosliner, Asec. Marcial Amaro, Asst. Director Armida Andres, Jhorace Tupas, and Joaquin Silvestre

Regarded as the center of the center of marine biodiversity in the world, the VIP has long captured the attention of marine conservationists due to its exceptional biodiversity. Prior to 2010, the VIP has shown little evidence of coral bleaching in the 20 years of research conducted in the area by that time. After a coral bleaching event in October 2010, the VIP has proved naturally resilient, showing signs of recovery after just four months.

Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue Founder, says “Coral reefs are the rainforests of the sea. Let us be inspired by the resilience of these corals and let us be motivated by the urgent need to act.”

One of the most powerful conservation forces of this 1.14-million-hectare marvel has been the collaborative effort of local communities, academia, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. While Dr. Gosliner and Dr. Licuanan have been named Hope Spot Champions for spearheading the nomination, partners like the ABS-CBN Foundation SEA-VIP, Pusod Inc., Old Dominion University, VIP Center for Oceanographic Research and Aquatic Life Sciences (VIP CORALS) Batangas State University, and First Gen Corporation have similarly nurtured the network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the VIP.

“We never expected it would come to this when we first started the work ten years ago. It’s not just the work of one organization, but of many, shared Lopez-Feliciano during the meeting.

At the heart of the work in the VIP is the use of “low-tech but accurate” techniques to monitor the health of its coral reef, mangrove, and seagrass habitats. Through workshops and trainings, community members-turned-citizen scientists are empowered to contribute to scientific research.

“So much power lies in the communities, and our focus is on the local working people to have a brighter future in terms of livelihood and conservation,” expressed Dr. Licuanan.

The recognition of the Verde Island Passage as a Mission Blue Hope Spot accentuates the urgency of collaboration in conservation, especially as threats like the recent Mindoro oil spill loom over its shores.