Endangered marine hotspot takes centerstage at National Museum of Natural History


New petition for ENIPAS protection also launched

The National Museum of Natural History launched its latest exhibit on Monday, featuring the Verde Island Passage (VIP), a maritime area considered to be a hotspot of biodiversity and the center of the center of marine shorefish biodiversity in the world. 
Organized by the Center of Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) and the Protect VIP, the exhibit entitled “Our VIP: Protecting a Paradise in Peril” was launched at the Upper and Lower Courtyard of the museum and featured photographs of the VIP which showcase the beauty and challenges faced by the maritime area. The photographs were taken by renowned underwater photographers of the country including Gutsy Tuason, Danny Ocampo, Boogs Rosales, Marivic Maramot, among others. 

“We thank the National Museum of Natural History for hosting this exhibit which we hope will inspire awe and action. Aside from the exhibit itself, today is also the launch of a new petition urging our national leaders to declare the VIP as a protected seascape under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, or ENIPAS. All museum visitors can scan a QR code and sign when the exhibition is opened to the public on November 7,” said Gerry Arances, CEED Executive Director and co-convenor of Protect VIP. 
The online petition mentions that the VIP, which covers the provinces of Batangas, Oriental and Occidental Mindoro, Romblon, and Marinduque, is home to 60% of shorefish species in the country, along with 300 coral species and reef formations. The VIP’s resources provide food and livelihood for more than two million Filipinos but are threatened by several threats including climate change, oil spills, shipping impacts, and the proliferation of fossil gas terminals and power plants in the surrounding area. 

“On February 28, 2023, more than 900,000 liters of industrial oil were leaked by the sinking of MT Princess Empress, for which no one is still held accountable. This tragedy prevented thousands of fisherfolk from fishing in the area and affected the economies of the towns that depend on fishing and tourism for their income. Despite the dangers of leaks from the passage of ships with toxic cargo, the government continues to encourage the building of gas power plants in the area which will naturally drive up ship traffic and increase chances of another, more serious accident,” said Father Edwin Gariguez, Lead Convenor of Protect VIP. 
“The loss of the biodiversity of VIP will spell disaster for the country. Not only do we lose an ecological treasure, but we would also lose a significant source of our food and tourism revenue from those who wish to see its natural wonders. ENIPAS is a legal instrument that must be immediately and urgently bestowed to the VIP and we hope that this exhibit will be the first step in achieving this goal,” he added.

National Museum Deputy Diretor General Jorell Legaspi harped on the importance of the exhibition to generate public awareness to protect the VIP. With the challenges facing the integrity of the VIP, we hope that this exhibition will not only increase public consciousness and positive reception of the VIP’s role in the country’s food security and in abating climate change, we are also looking forward to heighten the call to legally protect the VIP. As such, the NM supports the advocacy of protecting and conserving this important Passage where biodiversity is at its highest so that our upcoming generations will continue to have a secured future in terms of sustenance, health, and well-being,” he said. 
CEED and Protect VIP are encouraging the public to view the exhibit, featuring photographs donated by professional underwater photographers, and to sign the online petition via the QR code to be found in the exhibit.
“We invite everyone to see what the fisherfolk and communities of VIP are fighting for. We are not just fighting for natural beauty; we are fighting for the survival of our way of life. Come see the exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History. The exhibit will run for three months, so perhaps it can be one of your stops this coming Christmas break. Let’s see the paradise in peril before it is too late,” said Arances.

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