In the Philippines, Dynamite Fishing Decimates Entire Ocean Food Chains

Surveying damaged coral reefs in Philippine waters. The country has struggled to protect its 10,500 square miles of coral reef. Photo by Ben C. Solomon/The New York Times

By Aurora Almendral/nytimes.com – Nothing beats dynamite fishing for sheer efficiency.

A fisherman in this scattering of islands in the central Philippines balanced on a narrow outrigger boat and launched a bottle bomb into the sea with the ease of a quarterback. It exploded in a violent burst, rocking the bottom of our boat and filling the air with an acrid smell. Fish bobbed onto the surface, dead or gasping their last breaths.

Under the water, coral shattered into rubble.

The blast ruptured the internal organs of reef fish, fractured their spines or tore at their flesh with coral shrapnel. From microscopic plankton to sea horses, anemones and sharks, little survives inside the 30- to 100-foot radius of an explosion.

With 10,500 square miles of coral reef, the Philippines is a global center for marine biodiversity, which the country has struggled to protect in the face of human activity and institutional inaction. But as the effects of climate change on oceans become more acute, stopping dynamite and other illegal fishing has taken on a new urgency.

According to the initial findings of a survey of Philippine coral reefs conducted from 2015 to 2017 and published in the Philippine Journal of Science, there are no longer any reefs in excellent condition, and 90 percent were classified as either poor or fair. A 2017 report by the United Nations predicts that all 29 World Heritage coral reefs, including one in the Philippines, will die by 2100 unless carbon emissions are drastically reduced.

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