The Verde Island Passage
The Global Center of Marine Biodiversity
The Verde Island Passage (VIP) is a channel that cuts through the Philippines by the south of Luzon, right in the center of the Coral Triangle, which is an area of extreme ecological importance.
In a 2005 study by Dr. Kent Carpenter, marine biologist, he and his team discovered that the VIP has the highest concentration of marine shorefish biodiversity on the planet, with over 1736 overlapping species coexisting within just a 10 sq. km area. This led to Dr. Carpenter labelling the channel as “the epicenter of marine biodiversity.”
What Makes It The Center?
The coastline of the Philippines twists and turns within a small total area, making it the tropical country with the most coastline per unit area in the world. In fact, the coastline of the Philippines is equivalent to coastline of the entire United States, despite only having around 3% of the total land area. More coastlines equals more marine habitats, increasing the places where diverse forms of life can take hold, lending to the extreme biodiversity of the Philippines.
The Philippines stretches north to south over a long distance that includes tropical species in the north and sub-tropical species in the south. Latitudinal diversity means more diverse habitats, increasingthe number of species found in the area.
Stable Ocean Temperatures
During the ice ages, sea surface temperatures dropped dramatically, changing species compositions in the higher latitudes. However, in the Philippines these temperatures stayed relatively stable, allowing marine species to not only survive, but thrive during the ice ages.
The Philippines sits at the overlap between two major oceans - the Indian and the Pacific Ocean. Due to this, species from both oceans have settles in the Philippines, increasing marine biodiversity.
Center of Evolution
Scientists believe that the Philippines is a center of evolution due to the process of isolation. There were multiple isolated habitats over millennia because of our strong ocean currents, complicated coastlines, and in the past, a major drop in sea levels which divided our seas.
Isolation aids biodiversity because when major changes in the environment force populations of species to be split-up and isolated, they develop new traits and characteristics to adapt to their new environment. Taken over thousands and thousands of years, this can lead to the evolution of new species.
Strong Ocean Currents
The powerful Northern Equatorial Current carries all kinds of marine species and their larvae across the Pacific Ocean and into the Philippines, where they take shelter in the archipelago. These new species will eventually settle and evolve in ecosystems such as the VIP, making it their new home.
Complex Geological Background
The Philippines has a complicated geological background, having been once divided into three distinct regions scattered across the Pacific Ocean. Over millions of years, these regions came together via plate tectonics, acting as life rafts for all kinds of species. Thus, the oceans of the Philippines are a collection of three different geologic histories.