US firm Shell Horizons peddling endangered Philippine corals
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US firm Shell Horizons peddling endangered Philippine corals

A growing number of Filipinos are protesting the reported wholesale harvesting and selling of coral reefs from the Philippines by Shell Horizons whose company website proudly peddles its seemingly illegal and irresponsible business.

The website of Shell Horizons, which claims to have been viewed 10 million times since 1998, describes itself as “US Largest Wholesaler of Seashells and Seashell Products, Finest Quality Seashells and Souvenirs Since – 1976.”

“This is horrible. Boatloads of corals are taken away, including tritons,” said Filipino netizen Dave Ryan Bauron, who tweets about Philippine tourism and current events, referring to photos of corals featured on the Shell Horizons website.

In its online product catalog, Shell Horizons boasts of selling corals and seashells, among hundreds of products, purportedly from the Philippines.

Shell Horizons features photos of newly-harvested corals, purportedly from the Philippines. Photo from the Shell Horizons website.

Natural resources-rich Philippines bans harvesting and trade of corals, and is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Republic Act 8550 and Presidential Decree 1219 explicitly ban coral harvesting and trade.

Shell Horizons claims it is a company based in Clearwater, Florida, but a check with the website of Florida’s Department of State Division of Corporations online facility revealed that no online record for any “Shell Horizon Inc.”

US, top importer

An article in the Harvard Environmental Law Review reveals that:

Reefs in the Philippines are being decimated by activities such as harvesting for export. Currently the United States is the main importer of stony corals from the Philippines as curios, even though legislation such as the MPRSA [Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act] bans the collection on our own reefs. More than half of the Philippines’ exports of ornamental coral and exotic reef fish are sent to the United States.

In 2009, US authorities arrested and prosecuted a German national engaged in trade of Philippine corals.

Much at stake

If Shell Horizon’s questionable business goes unchecked, the Philippines stands to lose an immeasurable, important and beautiful natural resource:

The Philippines forms the apex of the Coral Triangle and is the world’s second-largest archipelago. Within this exquisite region sits 7107 emerald isles fringed by 27,000 square kilometres of coral reef. These aren’t your typical coral reefs, mind you.

This region has been hailed by globally-renowned coral expert and Corals of the World author Dr. Charlie Veron as ‘the centre of world marine diversity’ – an area so implausibly productive that a single square kilometre can keep on producing over 40 metric tonnes of fresh snapper, grouper and other forms of seafood year on year. With proper protection, these coral reefs can eradicate Asian poverty and feed billions – a coral-coated cornucopian horn unlike any other.

Coral trade, bad for the Philippines

According to a briefer from Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources:

Coral reefs are the habitat, breeding, nursery and feeding grounds of fish and other marine organisms.  They buffer  wave action and protect coastlines and provide areas for tourism and recreation. Likewise, they serve as a rich source of medicinal products.

It has been estimated that healthy coral reefs in the Philippines can supply as much as 35 tons/km/year of edible and economically valuable fish and invertebrates (assuming that ecologically sound fishing methods are used).

Coral reefs are important to archipelagic Philippines where a considerable number of people depend on fishing for livelihood:

The Philippine’s coral reefs have many economic, cultural and environmental benefits. The structure of the reefs protects the coastline from the eroding action of the ocean by acting as wave breakers. During typhoons and hurricanes, the reefs act as buffer zones that protect the coastal communities.

Majority of the villages on the coast depend on the reefs for their daily living, mainly through fishing. The beauty of the reefs also draws many divers and tourists eager to experience them first-hand through dive and snorkeling tours. These tourism activities support many communities directly and indirectly through adjunct services.

Early this year, the government said that coral reefs are in a truly sorry and endangered state:

We have very rich marine resources compared to other countries yet our marine resources are now in a “sorry” condition. We have only 25% of mangroves left and about 5% coral reefs are in excellent condition”, Director Mundita Lim of Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) said. Our coastal resources are threatened because of dynamite fishing, siltation, pollution, coral bleaching, and population explosion at the coastal areas consisting of 62%.

The continued trade of Philippine coral reefs by Shell Horizons runs counter to efforts to save them in many parts of the country, like Southern Leyte and Tubbataha Reef National Park.