2023 was predicted to be one of the hottest years since 1850. Two days ago, April 21, was the hottest day this year in the Philippines, with the heat index reaching 48°C in some parts of the country. This scorching heat poses health risks to vulnerable populations. It could trigger heat stroke, dehydration, hypertension, headaches, and skin problems such as boils and rashes, among others. But aside from its effect on human health, this changing climate also poses an adverse effect on the health of our ocean—eventually creating an irreversible effect on our food, livelihood, health, and well-being.

Climate change is impacting our oceans in various ways, including sea level rise, ocean warming, and changes in storm patterns and precipitation. In the Philippines, sea level rise is occurring three times faster than the global average, and surface temperatures have reached record highs this year. Palawan, along with our coastal and ocean resources, is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

As an archipelagic province reliant on the coast and the ocean for food, livelihood, and safety we are one of the first communities who will feel and bear the loss and the risks the changing climate brings. In fact, in the study conducted by Alcantara et al., (2023) of the Western Philippines University through the Blue Communities – Project, more than 80% of the Palaweños agree that the climate is changing. Specifically, it is manifested through rising temperatures, rising sea levels, and excessive rainfall. The study further found that the people in the coastal communities already feel its effect on their declining income brought about by the changing dynamics in their livelihood.

Our sea and our coast along with the mangrove forests, seagrasses, and coral reefs are a source of many invaluable ecosystem services –it provides us food, gives off oxygen, serves as home to many sea creatures, shelters our home and properties from strong waves and winds during a typhoon, sequesters carbon, controls pollution, provides us livelihood through fisheries, travel, and tourism and lastly, contribute to our better mental state, among others.

Over time, rising sea levels may cause mangrove forests to slightly shift inland thereby disrupting the presence of other native trees and destroying the habitat of animals and other organisms dependent in the area. We may experience severe typhoons compared to our past experiences. Flooding in low-lying communities due to storm surges and high tides can also become more frequent due to the loss of mangrove forests. It may destroy our properties, and livelihood and can cause death among our families.

Ocean warming is now and may further bleach our coral reefs which will harm the distribution and abundance of fish in this habitat. Some fish species may migrate to areas with more favorable conditions. Our fishermen will have to fish farther offshore thereby affecting their income, food security, the education of their children, and their mental well-being. Unhealthy corals cannot help minimize the impact of big waves on the shore – thereby causing more damage to the shore and the surrounding structures and vegetation.

Rising sea level can also significantly impact the quality of our potable water. As the sea level rise, salt water may intrude on our aquifers. Communities in low-lying villages getting their potable water from wells could potentially be at risk of a heart problem. A study in Bangladesh (Radwanur & Talukder, 2015) has already shown a potential link between the salinity of drinking water and high blood pressure.

Climate change is largely caused by human activities and temperature is still predicted to increase over time. Mitigation measures are being put in place and adaptation is the best option. But how, in the face of these adjustments, can the vulnerable people and communities in Palawan, keep in pace with these changes and create a happy, healthy, and food-secure family while also being confronted by equally complex social, economic, and political pressure?

Alcantara, L. B., Creencia, L. A., Madarcos, J. R. V., Madarcos, K. G., Jontila, J. B. S., & Culhane, F. (2023). Climate change awareness and risk perceptions in the coastal marine ecosystem of Palawan, Philippines. UCL Open Environment, 5. https://doi.org/10.14324/111.444/ucloe.000054

Radwanur, M., & Talukder, R. (2015). Salinization of Drinking Water in the Context of Climate Change and Sea Level Rise: A Public Health Priority for Coastal Bangladesh. In The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts (Vol. 8, Issue 1). www.on-climate.com,