MANILA -- Environment group Philippine Coral Bleaching Watch urged the public to report the condition of coral reefs in their areas.

"We need everyone's help on the matter," said the group's coordinator Miledel Quibilan, noting that the country's reef area covers an about 26,000 sq. km.

Quibilan said people can voluntarily report using either the Facebook account or app of the group.

Reports on whether or not coral reefs are already bleached and whitish in color will help scientists monitor and assess extent of these ecosystems' damages from climate change and drought-driving El Nino phenomenon, she noted.

Their findings will help identify possible interventions for the
reefs, she added.

There's urgency in saving reefs as the country is losing its coral cover, data presented by Director Dr. Wilfredo Licuanan of the Alfred Shields FSC Ocean Research Center during a press conference in Metro Manila this month showed.

"Forty years ago, about 5.0 percent of our reefs were still in excellent condition since more than three-fourth of the surface was covered with live corals - we no longer saw this during our assessment over the last three years," said Licuanan, who is also a De La Salle University professor.

Loss of coral cover highlights need for sustainably managing coral reefs so present and future generations could benefit from these natural resources, he said.

Coral reefs are underwater structures formed over the years from accumulated skeletons of corals which are marine animals that permanently attach to the ocean floor, said experts.

They said coral reefs are among Earth's most valuable ecosystems as these host various species including commercially important ones.

Reefs are tourist attractions and act as buffer that protects shorelines against waves, surges and sea level rise, they said.

Experts  added that bleaching happens when temperature rises beyond what corals can tolerate, forcing expulsion of algae that live within and provide food for these animals.

Coral bleaching is a problem particularly for the Philippines where there is high dependence on coastal and marine resources for food and livelihood, Quibilan noted.

The country's first documented mass coral bleaching event was in 1998, she said.

Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said such bleaching began in Batangas and spread nearly clockwise around the country.

The bleaching correlated with anomalous sea surface temperatures then, noted BFAR.

BFAR said such bleaching decreased live coral cover by 0.7 percent to 80 percent in various areas.

Quibilan said saving coral reefs must involve addressing problems that resulted in these ecosystems' degradation.

"In the first place, we must think of what caused such degradation," she said.

Sedimentation, marine pollution, destructive fishing and negative impacts of coastal development are among factors that helped increase Philippine reef areas' damage, experts warned earlier.

Climate change-induced sea temperature rise can stress out and possibly kill corals, they added. (PNA)