Environment Secretary Antonia Loyzaga and governors of the five provinces surrounding the Verde Island Passage (VIP) are calling for the so-called Amazon of the Seas to be declared as a protected area by law.

“This highest level of protection for what is touted as the center of the world’s marine biodiversity will keep VIP as a sanctuary to thousands of marine species and off limits to business activities that will threaten its pristine ecosystem,” Secretary Loyzaga said.

The call was agreed upon during a meeting among Secretary Loyzaga and Governors Hermilando Mandanas of the province of Batangas and Presbitero Velasco Jr. of the province of Marinduque who also discussed the threat to VIP of the recent oil spill.

A part of the Coral Triangle, the VIP is regarded by experts as the “center of the center of marine shore fish biodiversity” in the world. It is home to more than 300 coral species, 170 fish species and thousands of marine organisms such as sharks and turtles; and provides livelihood and other benefits to over two million people.

The marine corridor is surrounded by the provinces of Batangas, Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Mindoro, Marinduque, and Romblon.

Secretary Loyzaga said the VIP is currently a marine protected area, but the governors wanted it to be a legislated protected area.

“That will involve five provinces moving together to get this whole area legislated. Why is it important? Critical reefs, critical seagrass beds, mangroves, fisheries, these are spawning areas for fish, livelihood is dependent on that, and it has an implication on climate change as well,” she pointed out.

Last April 25, Loyzaga met with the board members of the Verde Island Passage Marine Protected Area Network and Law Enforcement Network to discuss the development of a VIP-wide Disaster Prevention and Response Plan.

“Considering its mandate, the DENR is committed to strengthening the protection and management of the VIP as a priority conservation area,” Loyzaga said during the meeting.

It was agreed upon that the DENR shall call for an immediate meeting to activate Executive Order 2006-578 establishing the National Policy on Biological Diversity to include other national government agencies and local government units.

The DENR shall also explore options for claims from the international oil spill contingency funds, and convene the interim Protected Area Management Board for the legislation of VIP as a protected area.

“Since the early part of 2020 just before the pandemic, there are a number of proposed development projects like submarine cable/pipe laying and jetty construction, to be implemented within the globally significant VIP. With this, there is a need to study what possible regulations may be imposed to ensure that there is a balance between development and conservation,” Loyzaga said.

The meeting was also attended by DENR Assistant Secretary and Biodiversity Management Bureau OIC Director Marcial Amaro Jr.; and representatives from Occidental Mindoro and Oriental Mindoro, Department of Agriculture, Philippine National Police-Maritime Group, Philippine Coast Guard, and Conservation International Philippines. #