Local “sea warriors” fight against marine poachers

Mankind is changing the world. In the last week of May, The Economist’s cover story put forward the idea that our generation has ushered Earth into a new era of paleolithic history. Instead of the Holocene, the article argues, we’ve entered the age of the Anthropocene, whereby human beings —  not climate, seismic or geological factors — determine how the world is quite literally shaped.

The sea is no exception. Also in late May, the case of Chinese poachers caught smuggling endangered marine life, including rare black corals and protected sea turtles, attracted a fair amount of global attention. They’re said to have harvested up to 7,000 hectares of coral reef within Philippine waters. That’s about twice the size of Metro Manila, according to one customs official. The poaching occurred in the Sulu Sea, out of China’s contested territorial claim over the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea.

Two days ago, the International Programme on the State of the Ocean released a shocking report on the world’s marine life: it’s at a high risk of entering a phase of extinction. The change we expect as the world turns — a glacial pace — is accelerating far faster than scientists anticipated, even taking into consideration the momentous changes in the last few decades. The changes caused by human activity is too fast for the ocean to cope with. Another assessment on coral reefs earlier this year figures 95% of Southeast Asia’s reefs is at risk of depletion. The Philippines, for its part, is surrounded by about 26,000km of coral reef. About 30-40% of that is dead or dying.

But there is hope. While government action and international support is key to battling marine life depletion, at the end of the day, those directly affected by the ocean’s crisis are the crux of the operation. As Barnaby Lo reports, a band of local residents called Bantay Dagat have taken it upon themselves to do their part in the rescue operation. Mankind can change the world.