Stroking for the conservation of the seas

Six Filipino open-water swimmers tackled the rough waters off the coast of Nasugbu, Batangas, at the entrance of the Verde Island Passage, in an effort to raise awareness on the need to conserve Philippine coral reefs and highlight the importance of Verde Island Passage.

Ingemar Macarine, Frank Lacson, Betsy Medalla, Julian Valencia, Moi Yamoyam and Miguel Villanueva, most of which are well-known athletes, gathered together for the first time on May 29 for Reef Strokes, an open-water marathon and promotional event organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines and hosted by Hamilo Coast, a sprawling coastal, mixed-use development of the SM Group, to also celebrate World Environment Day on June 5, World Oceans’ Day on June 8 and Coral Triangle Day on June 9.
The six swimmers started at Dorado Cove; swam through the coves of Arkaya, Balibago, North Etayo, Etayo, Subli and Santelmo; and ended up at the Pico de Loro Beach and Country Club, tackling eight of Hamilo Coast’s 13 coves and covering a distance of about 10 kilometers.
“Open-water swimmers are natural stewards. It is in their own interest to protect the sea,” said swimming coach Medalla on their participation in the venture. She and Valencia are the first two Filipinos and Asians to swim the Robben Island Channel in Cape Town, South Africa.
“As a swimmer who regularly swims in open water, I am disheartened each time I encounter floating garbage. We swim to remind everyone that we need to act now to protect our marine resources,” declared Macarine, who was awarded by WWF Philippines as a Hero of the Environment for his efforts in raising marine conservation awareness in his swims. Known as the Pinoy Aquaman, he swam 20 kilometers in just eight hours and plans to be the first Filipino to cross the English Channel in August.
Lacson, on the other hand, is regarded as the pioneer of triathlon in the Philippines, while Yamoyam is a former member of the Philippine National Triathlon team and has had a number of podium finishes as a triathlete. Villanueva is a student of Medalla and an open-water swim podium finisher. This is his first time to swim a marathon distance for swimming.
Supporting Reef Strokes was Hamilo Coast, which WWF Philippines has been assisting since 2007, creating environmental programs for Pico de Loro Beach and Country Club and Pico Sands Hotel  such as coastal resource management, renewable energy use, solid-waste management and ridge-to-reef conservation.
“Hamilo Coast is located right at the apex of the Verde Island Passage, which boasts of an incredible array of marine species. As an organization with sustainability at the forefront of its operations, we ensure that we take good care of the environment from ridge to reef. Through the help of WWF, several sustainability programs have been incorporated in our development,” said Wesley Caballa, Hamilo Coast sustainability head.
Selected coves of Hamilo Coast have been declared marine protected areas and Bantay Dagat units were established to monitor the area. Giant clams are also being cultivated at Santelmo Cove and the ride-to-reef management project helps protect corals from sedimentation and siltation. These are some of the efforts of Hamilo Coast and WWF Philippines to conserve and protect the environment as well as to minimize the impacts of tourism and property development.
The athletes and the supporting companies unanimously encouraged people to take care of the seas, especially Verde Island Passage and the coral reefs in the Triangle.
Surrounded by the provinces of Batangas, Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Mindoro, Marinduque and Romblon, the Verde Island Passage has been called “the center of the center of marine shorefish biodiversity,” being at the center of the Coral Triangle, considered as the world’s epicenter of marine life, abundance and biodiversity and being a home to 319 species and 74 genera of hard coral. A rich production area for fishing, the passage is threatened by climate change, pollution and mining.
On the other hand, Joel Palma, WWF Philippines president and chief executive officer, stressed the importance of Coral Triangle, on which about 130 million people depend on. About 25 billion US dollars worth of tourism revenue has been generated and the area yields about three million US dollars worth of tuna and other food fishes.
“Coral reefs give millions of people food and livelihoods,” he said. “However, they are threatened by plastic waste, which smothers delicate corals. Climate change effects such as global warming also lead to coral bleaching, turning once-productive reefs into graveyards coated by algae.”
Thus, environmental conservation and awareness efforts, like Reef Strokes, prove to be crucial.
“Reef Strokes shows how our collective ‘strokes’ will take us to the finish line, which is a world where productive oceans continue to gift Filipinos with food, jobs, even the very air we breathe,” Palma said.

Source: Tribune