A recent paper by University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute’s Timothy Quimpo and colleagues, published in the Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom (JMBA), revealed that coral reefs in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) have low abundance and diversity of corals and fish. Even the deeper areas of the reefs, the upper mesophotic coral ecosystems that are presumed to be buffered from disturbances, showed similar benthic and coral assemblage composition as the shallow water reefs, suggesting that both depths are vulnerable to disturbances.

While news of giant clam poaching in the disputed Scarborough Shoal drew massive online outrage, it is far from the first wildlife exploitation story in our history. One serious challenge for local law enforcement in these cases has always been visually confirming the presence of our endemic species when specimens have been skinned, ground or similarly processed for the black market.

Luckily a team led by the UP Institute of Biology’s Ian Kendrich Fontanilla and the late Dean Perry Ong have locally pioneered a system called DNA barcoding, which utilizes the molecular fingerprint of genes to assist both scholarship and law enforcement in these tricky cases.