Authorities have seen “signs of degradation” in and around Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources director Asis Perez confirmed Wednesday.

Personnel of the BFAR and Philippine Coast Guard assigned in the area have reported “water discoloration” and “destruction of corals,” Perez said in a phone interview.

The changes in the shoal’s environment is apparently caused by an increasing number of fishermen, the BFAR chief said.

Perez made the remarks as the BFAR ordered a stop to fishing activities in Panatag, following a similar move by China.

The BFAR’s two-month “close fishing season” took effect Tuesday night.

“For the meantime lang ito, kasi malapit na rin ‘yung habagat (monsoon season). Tapos based na rin dun sa mga reports galing sa area, medyo marami po ang nangingisda. Kaya po maganda na isarado po muna natin ‘yung dagat para makapahinga po ‘yung Bajo de Masinloc,” Perez said.

Bajo de Masinloc is the name given to Panatag during the Spanish colonization period.

During the “close fishing season,” the BFAR will conduct studies in and around Panatag to determine the extent of damage that the shoal and its environment have suffered.

“Pag-aaralan natin ‘yung biological as well as the physical characteristics of the area, to be able to determine what appropriate management measures ang dapat gawin dun sa lugar,” Perez said.

As of Tuesday night, four Filipino fishing boats and about 10 Chinese fishing vessels were still in Panatag.

Vessels of the BFAR, Coast Guard, and the Chinese Maritime Survellance also remain in a “standoff” in Panatag to lay the Philippines’ and China’s claim to the rich fishing ground. (John Roson)

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