MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines has tightened laws banning fishing and collecting of species on the country's largest coral reef to help it recover from near destruction, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature said on Tuesday.
The 27,400 hectare Apo Reef off the coast of Mindoro island was almost drained of life by heavy fishing, including by dynamite and cyanide, which left only a third of coral cover by the early 1990s.
A ban on fishing, only partially enforced since it took effect in 1994, has helped restore some of the reef so that around half is now alive. Now a new local law, brought in this week, is stepping up protection in what was once of the world's top dive spots.
"It has been declared a 'no-take zone' to allow the reef and the various species around it ample time to recover from years of fishing," said Gregg Yan of the World Wildlife Fund-Philippines.
Yan said the marine park would be opened for tourists to help generate funds for its protection as well as provide an alternative livelihood for hundreds of fishermen in the area.
The Philippines tops a list of hotspots for endangered coral reefs due to destructive fishing methods and pollution, the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science said in a recent report published in "Science" magazine.
Some of the endangered species are returning to the reefs.
"A few months back, divers saw a school of over a hundred scalloped hammerhead sharks," Yan told reporters, adding that groups of manta and eagle rays had also been sighted in "ever-higher concentration".
"Even giants like the whaleshark and sperm whales are being seen regularly, an indicator that biodiversity levels are returning," he said.