TACLOBAN CITY (PNA) – Environmental group Oceana has reported rich marine biodiversity in Panaon Island in Southern Leyte as they embark on a 22-day expedition in the bid to help protect and sustainably manage the island’s underwater resource.

In a diary shared by Danny Ocampo, Oceana senior campaign manager, he said the corals in Panaon Island were “extensive and quite good” compared to other dive sites he has been to.

“Coral cover was very good in the shallows and as we went deeper between two coral outcrops, it was decorated with lots of crinoids, soft corals, and sea fans,” Ocampo said.

Among the marine species seen were octopuses, black tip sharks, batfishes, eel, sea turtles, sea snakes, large chevron barracudas, giant trevallies, and big red snappers, among others.

“In one of the marine protected areas, the first thing we saw upon entering the water was a huge shallow area of unbroken foliose coral extending up to the deeper part of the reef,” he added.

Ocampo was one of the experts deployed by Oceana for a 22-day expedition to assess the marine biodiversity of the island in Southern Leyte.

Oceana started the assessment on October 18, deploying a team composed of marine scientists, media production crew, and ship personnel who conducted the first of several dives off the waters of Panaon Island. The activity will conclude on November 8.

They are on-board the expedition ship MV Discovery Palawan.

“Being situated at the Coral Triangle, the Philippines has several coral-rich sites that need attention. One of these is Panaon Island in Southern Leyte. While studies show a decline in coral cover in the Philippines, this particular site stands out and gives hope with its high diversity of coral species,” Oceana Philippines said in a statement posted on its website.

The team is currently assessing corals, seagrass, and fish using scientific survey methods.

Leading the expedition is Dr. Badi Samaniego, a seasoned marine scientist, he has done extensive research on reef, fish ecology, and marine protected areas in Galapagos Islands, Coral Triangle, French Polynesia, and the British Indian Ocean Territory, according to Oceana.

All crew and members of the expedition team have undergone coronavirus testing procedures while regular disinfection procedures and basic health protocols are strictly enforced on-board.

Panaon Island is a small island, lying south of Leyte, separated from Dinagat to the east, and Mindanao to the southeast by Surigao Strait. Panaon is about 30 kilometers long from north to south. The largest town is Liloan, which is connected by a bridge to the main Leyte Island.