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Super Typhoon Haiyan Destroys Homes, Damages Coral Reefs, and Strengthens the Human Connection in the Philippines

The third and final piece in the story of Malapascua is sorrowful, yet it contains a promise of hope for the future. The reefs of Malapascua have faced many challenges with destructive fishing methods and damaging ecotourism. The greatest challenge yet still confronts them – recovery from the devastation wrought by the super typhoon Haiyan.

The eye of Haiyan, the deadliest typhoon ever to land, rolled right over Malapascua Island. Wind speeds of 150 miles per hour ripped apart homes made of bamboo and straw, and dive resorts made of stone and wood. They were extremely fortunate in one respect: the storm claimed no lives on the island. It remains to be seen what damage was done to the precious coral reefs that provide so much for the people of the island.

Typhoon Haiyan laid waste to many parts of the Philippines last November. It has claimed over 6,000 lives and the death toll is still rising. Entire cities were laid low and small communities were wiped out. Many other countries have reached out to aid the damaged nation, bringing food and water to the tens of thousands of homeless and working to rebuild cities.

With aid focusing on the terrestrial damage and humanitarian effort, the impact on the marine environment is often overlooked during the aftermath of such storms. Hidden beneath the waves, coral reefs can be be devastated by the conditions created by a super typhoon.

The Philippines consist of 7,107 islands with 22,550 miles of coastline. It is a nation made entirely of coastal communities that depend on the ocean for food, livelihoods and ecotourism. Their entire culture draws life from the sea. When storms like typhoon Haiyan land, it is more than buildings that are destroyed, more than human lives that are taken.

Super storms like Haiyan pose an enormous threat to marine communities. Coral reefs are extremely sensitive to environmental conditions. Storms generate strong winds and harsh waves that can break the delicate tendrils and plates of corals. They are smothered by the massive amounts of sediment stirred up by unusually active water movement. Rain runoff can sweep harmful chemicals, trash, and fertilizer into the ocean, each of which has it’s own devastating effects. Temperature changes can cause coral bleaching, leading to eventual death.

Corals take hundreds, even thousands of years to flourish into healthy, productive communities that provide homes for colorful fish and invertebrates. They are the ocean equivalent to rainforests in biodiversity and the Philippines have the most diverse coral reefs in the world. People travel from all over the world to see their vibrant reefs and beautiful marine life. Fishing is the main source of food and jobs. What super typhoons leave behind is rubble that cannot support life. That means no more fish, no more food, no more tourists.

And the Philippines have seen their share of exceptionally strong typhoons.

So many times, the Philippines have been hit by typhoons with never-before-seen strength. Of the top ten deadliest and most destructive cyclones in recorded history, five have occurred in the last decade. The disputed whispers of climate change cannot continue to be ignored. Extreme weather events are increasing in size and frequency and they will only continue to get worse in the coming years. Developing nations like the Philippines contribute the least to the global influx of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere – but they the ones that are hurt the most.

Coral reefs are already threatened with overfishing, destructive fishing, pollution, and ocean acidification. These factors weaken them, making them vulnerable to further changes. Adding massive storms into the mix spells disaster for a country that relies so heavily on the ocean.

But there is hope. Islands like Malapascua have a tremendous advantage in the recovery process. Pure and simple, the people of the island love the reefs. They love the fish, the corals, the thresher sharks, Monad Shoal – all of it. These things do not just mean food or money to them; they mean life. A strong community of families exists, whether they live in the little fishing villages or they work for the luxury resorts or they are members of a conservation group. Their family even extends to other nations and a strong international support has reached out to bring them food, water, clothing, and medical supplies.

This is a network of compassion that will prevail over destruction. Once the island begins rebuilding, they will undoubtedly refocus their energy on their surrounding ocean. It is the human connection that will heal their homes and restore their reefs. I have grown to love this little island, with it’s thresher sharks and ocean-loving people. In time, I hope to bring you Part 4 – a story of recovery and healing.

The global community would do well to learn from the people of Malapascua. In order to protect our environment and heal it from damage already inflicted, we must learn to love it. Whether the problem is global climate change, destructive fishing, or plastic in our oceans, change starts with every action of every person. Join Pucci Foods today in cherishing our environment and protecting our oceans.

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