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In the midst of the giant groupers

First mastered by the Taiwanese in the 1970s, full-cycle or closed loop mariculture entails breeding and rearing fish in complete captivity and is meant to eliminate the need to draw from wild stocks. Hardier but lower-value species such as green grouper and tiger grouper have been successfully bred and reared in captivity since the year 2000. Few have met success with finicky leopard coral trout, but the Palawan Aquaculture Corporation claims to have successfully bred them – a vital first step for the road to full-cycle mariculture.

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By Gregg Yan, WWF

A typical grow-out facility in Southern Palawan. Operators must feed and protect the fish, which are held in submerged cages beneath and around the central hut for around 10 months. There is no electricity. Food and water are supplied exclusively by boat (Gregg Yan/WWF)

A typical grow-out facility in Southern Palawan. Operators must feed and protect the fish, which are held in submerged cages beneath and around the central hut for around 10 months. There is no electricity. Food and water are supplied exclusively by boat (Gregg Yan/WWF)

“Don’t fall into that fish pen,” warns Daryl Dandal, an offshore cage warden. “It has two giant groupers. Both are larger than you.”

I nod and tiptoe through a network of planks above the glittering waters of Taytay in Palawan, Philippines. Here lie about 2,000 fish cages, where various species of grouper are grown to feed a ballooning export trade. For the Philippines, this is the center of the LRFFT: the live reef food fish trade.

What began in the 1980s as an experiment in Samar now employs over 100,000 people in Palawan alone. Palawan’s annual grouper exports exceed P1.7 billion – but the fish are slowly disappearing.

LEOPARD CORAL TROUT

Chinese restaurants usually have a bubbling tank of grouper. Locally called lapu-lapu, señorita or suno, the lethargic predators are among Asia’s most sought-after reef fish, prized for taste and texture. Across the Philippines, millions of juveniles are caught before they reproduce, raising serious concerns about the LRFFT’s sustainability.

Although there are 161 grouper species, the apple of traders’ eyes is the leopard coral trout, an orange fish that fetches up to P7,200 per kilogram in Hong Kong and P13,500 per kilogram in China.

“When the trade started in the 1980s, most wild-caught groupers were market-sized, each around a foot long,” recounts Dr. Geoffrey Muldoon, WWF’s LRFFT strategy leader. “After 30 years, most of the large ones have been fished out. Today just one in five wild-caught groupers is market-sized. Since there aren’t enough adults to go around, the trade turned to grouper ranching, a system where juveniles are caught and grown in guarded offshore cages.”

Within submerged cages and pens, groupers must endure temperature fluctuations, overcrowding and diseases. Many die in the process. Those that survive around 10 months in captivity are sold as market-sized fish – each around a foot long and weighing from 500 to 700 grams. At this stage in the supply chain, a single suno, as the leopard coral trout is locally known, retails for about P2,500.

It’s a lucrative livelihood. Fishers earn up to 50 times more selling a kilogram of suno than other types of fish. Federico and Nida Ellut from northern Palawan sent their three children to school from their income as grouper collectors.

“From a simple straw hut, we now have a two-bedroom concrete home. We’re saving to buy our third boat,” says Nida.

Money talks – but extraction has hidden costs.

STOCKS DEPLETED?

The current system of LRFFT collection is untenable: WWF surveys have shown that over half the groupers taken from Palawan’s reefs are juveniles, a clear sign of dangerous stock depletion.

“Overharvesting has been a huge problem. Fishers were catching five times more than what could be sustained. Spawning aggregations were targeted, depleting brood-stock. Fortunately local governments and fishing communities have embraced conservation efforts,” says WWF-Philippines project manager Mavic Matillano.

WWF is now leading efforts to facilitate the recovery of suno stocks by establishing marine protected areas, plus enhanced enforcement, licensing and education. Alternative solutions may also exist.

“Given the fishery’s dependence on wild juveniles, a way forward is through full-cycle mariculture, potentially freeing suppliers from having to catch wild fish,” explains Muldoon.

First mastered by the Taiwanese in the 1970s, full-cycle or closed loop mariculture entails breeding and rearing fish in complete captivity and is meant to eliminate the need to draw from wild stocks. Hardier but lower-value species such as green grouper and tiger grouper have been successfully bred and reared in captivity since the year 2000. Few have met success with finicky leopard coral trout, but the Palawan Aquaculture Corporation claims to have successfully bred them – a vital first step for the road to full-cycle mariculture.

Farmed suno might soon be a commercial reality, but the clock is ticking.

“Just a few years ago, the panther grouper was at the top of the LRFFT heap,” says Matillano. “It was caught and exported by the millions, but stocks crashed and the government imposed a total ban on the panther grouper. The suno was next in line, becoming LRFFT’s top-traded fish.”

* * *

As I jump and dive around the floating leopard farms of Taytay, I notice how leopard coral trout comprise just half the fish in the cages. Whereas a few years ago cages would brim with bright red suno, each fish cage now hosts an eclectic blend of strawberry, saddle, harlequin and other types of grouper – now pressed into the trade to take the declining suno’s place.

I ponder how long before the suno population crashes. If and when it does, the market will likely move on to other fish, continuing the pattern of over-consumption. It’s clear that full-cycle mariculture of suno and other grouper species is the LRFFT’s best way forward.

Floating offshore cages house dozens of juvenile groupers in the municipality of Taytay in Northern Palawan (Jun Lao)

Floating offshore cages house dozens of juvenile groupers in the municipality of Taytay in Northern Palawan (Jun Lao)

Cherished in China for their ‘lucky’ red color, leopard coral trout (Plectropomus leopardus) await their fate inside a floating cage in Palawan. Some die of stress and disease – but enough survive to make the trade lucrative. Gregg Yan/WWF)

Cherished in China for their ‘lucky’ red color, leopard coral trout (Plectropomus leopardus) await their fate inside a floating cage in Palawan. Some die of stress and disease – but enough survive to make the trade lucrative. Gregg Yan/WWF)

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Destinations

Araneta City announces offerings for the holidays

This year, Araneta City celebrates the holiday with the theme “The City of Firsts: Your Home for Christmas” to encapsulate the warm essence of the season – the familiar comfort of celebrating with your loved ones, the delightful spirit of sharing and giving, and the tender feeling of being at home.

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The most wonderful time of the year has arrived, and Araneta City is all set to make the much-awaited season truly special and extra memorable! 

This year, Araneta City celebrates the holiday with the theme “The City of Firsts: Your Home for Christmas” to encapsulate the warm essence of the season – the familiar comfort of celebrating with your loved ones, the delightful spirit of sharing and giving, and the tender feeling of being at home.

Create new Christmas memories at Araneta City by spending time with loved ones at the New Gateway Mall 2. Explore the mall’s wide array of dining options for meetups and gatherings. Make gift giving extra special by checking out the latest and trendiest items at the selection of new stores.

Spend time with your love ones at the spacious Quantum Skyview, and snap some groufies by the towering Christmas tree or by the dynamic LED ceiling display. Or bring them to the Sagrada Familia Church on the uppermost floor for moments of spiritual renewal and reflection.

For a more nostalgic holiday touch, check out these beloved classic attractions at the City of Firsts:

1. Fiesta Carnival: A reunion with nostalgia

One of the most cherished facets of Araneta City’s Yuletide celebration this year is the return of the Fiesta Carnival — the famous indoor theme park of the yesteryears. The OG go-to carnival from the 70s to the 90s will be revived at its original location to rekindle cherished childhood memories and create new ones. 

Friends and families are invited to enjoy thrilling rides and games that will evoke the same old happy feelings of innocence and youthfulness in a modern setting. Watch out for its opening across the Smart Araneta Coliseum Green Gate.

2. Giant Christmas Tree: The centerpiece of the holidays

The Giant Christmas Tree at the City of Firsts is a quintessential part of Christmas celebrations in the metro. The towering holiday symbol, which has been Araneta City’s tradition since 1981, glistens in gold, silver, and red to suit the bright colorful season. 

Complementing the overall design of the giant Christmas trees this year is a golden carousel that was placed underneath the tree, an ode to the returning Fiesta Carnival for an enchanting atmosphere of nostalgia and togetherness. Visit the bright tree at the Times Square Park.

3. Parolan: Your one-stop for everything Christmas

Parolan is another annual tradition that embodies the Christmas spirit in Aranera City. Running until December 31, this festive marketplace is a must-visit place for all holiday decorating needs. 

Here, visitors can find a wide assortment of Christmas decorations, including twinkling lights, baubles, and the iconic Pinoy parol (Filipino

lantern). This treasure trove of holiday decor makes it easy for people to transform their homes into a winter wonderland. So drop by at Parolan at the Farmers Garden Parking.

4. More Christmas delights at the City of Firsts

Araneta City is brimming with more festive cheers and dazzling displays for a familiar home-y holiday feels:

  • A breathtaking fireworks display, every Friday to Sunday until December 30;
  • colorful Santa meet-and-greet sessions every weekend until December 25, and Christmas Mascot Parade every Sunday until Christmas. 
  • Santa’s Workshop at the Quantum Skyview, New Gateway Mall 2; and 
  • enchanting evening busking at Manhattan Row from December 5 to 28.

With all these Christmas offers, Araneta City is warmly welcoming everyone to celebrate, create cherished memories, and rediscover the joys of being home for the holidays. 

Experience the magic of the holiday season in a place that truly feels like home only at the City of Firsts.  

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Destinations

Filipino travelers value flexibility and accommodation choices – Visa

Filipinos value flexibility and accommodation choices, where 75% of travelers prioritized cleanliness when choosing their accommodation for the trip as a possible effect of the pandemic, and 35% of travelers chose to travel independently instead of packaged tours.

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As post-pandemic travel resumes, research shows that flexibility, convenience, and safety continue to be sought after by travelers around the globe. The latest Visa Global Travel Intentions Study (GTI) 2023[1] shows the evolving travel habits of travelers, presenting a roadmap for businesses to cater to their needs.

In the Philippines, some key findings of the GTI study revealed that Filipinos value flexibility and accommodation choices, where 75% of travelers prioritized cleanliness when choosing their accommodation for the trip as a possible effect of the pandemic, and 35% of travelers chose to travel independently instead of packaged tours.

Jeff Navarro, Visa’s Country Manager for the Philippines and Guam said, “We continue to see outbound travel bouncing back in the country to pre-pandemic levels, where Filipinos have taken on average two leisure trips in the last 12 months. We are optimistic that tourism will remain a vital backbone of the economy as we move toward the year-end holiday season, as Visa continues to facilitate safe and secure cross-border shopping activity, both for inbound tourists shopping at our many wonderful local landmarks, and for Filipinos traveling locally or abroad”.

The GTI Study revealed that the key motivations for Filipinos travelling locally and abroad are mostly for relaxation (69%), exploring something new (52%), and for adventure (48%).

The top three destinations abroad for 89% of Filipino travelers are to Asia Pacific countries such as Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, with travel peaking between December 2022 and March 2023.

“While we are also optimistic of the digitalization of travel that extends across buying airline tickets and tours, accommodation, travel insurance, and shopping, the study also showed 66% of Filipino travelers had payment concerns prior to leaving for their trip. This can be stressful for those who are not yet well-versed in digital payments, and who feel the need to carry cash and find money changers and ATMs. Contactless payments have emerged as the mode of choice in many places around the world, and we are supportive of all stakeholders in the ecosystem working together to enable cashless and contactless payments in the Philippines,” Jeff added.

The path to progress in tourism is a shared journey, and Visa will continue playing a role in shaping the industry’s future through widespread acceptance of digital payments for everyone, everywhere.


[1] The Global Intentions Study 2023 surveys more than 40,000 consumers globally across 37 markets including around 1,000 respondents in the Philippines, on travelers’ recent trips in the past 12 months and intention to travel in the next 12 months. The study’s fieldwork was conducted from April 2023 to June 2023.

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Destinations

The Ascott Limited unveils Citadines Roces Quezon City

Once completed, Citadines Roces Quezon City holds the potential to establish the Ascott Limited within Quezon City, leading to growth opportunities and further brand awareness to the northern parts of the metro.

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The Ascott Limited (Ascott) is thrilled to announce the upcoming opening of its latest serviced residence, Citadines Roces Quezon City, located in the vibrant Quezon City.

With its prime location in Don A. Roces Avenue Diliman, Citadines Roces promises to be a premier destination for both business and leisure travelers seeking a comfortable and convenient getaway experience in the heart of Metro Manila. Once completed, Citadines Roces Quezon City holds the potential to establish the Ascott Limited within Quezon City, leading to growth opportunities and further brand awareness to the northern parts of the metro.

Quezon City, the largest city in Metro Manila and the capital of the Philippines has been experiencing rapid growth in terms of development. As a recognized emerging district with established townships and mixed-use communities, the city has become a hub for multinational companies and government offices. Citadines Roces Quezon City is strategically situated near these businesses, as well as shopping malls and renowned companies, providing the utmost convenience to its potential residents.

Set to open its doors in November 2023, the serviced residence offers 200 well-appointed suites, including studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments. Each residence is thoughtfully designed to provide a combination of style and comfort while also showcasing its modern look designed for functionality. Future guests of the property can expect a seamless blend of contemporary amenities and top-of-the-line personalized services to cater to their needs and preferences.

The serviced residence boasts a range of exceptional amenities, ensuring that every guest is in for a well-rounded living experience. From a retail podium offering convenient shopping options to performance spaces that inspire creativity, Citadines Roces Quezon City is designed to cater to the most diverse type of travelers. The property also features an all-day dining restaurant, function spaces for meetings and events, a swimming pool, a fully equipped fitness center, and a resident’s lounge for both relaxation and socializing.

“As we introduce Citadines Roces Quezon City, we are excited to offer a dynamic and modern living concept that meets the evolving needs of today’s travelers,” said Philip Barnes, Ascott’s Country General Manager. “With its strategic location and an array of amenities, Citadines  Roces is poised to be a preferred choice for those seeking a comfortable and convenient serviced residence experience in Quezon City.”

As The Ascott Limited expands its presence in the Philippines, Citadines Roces Quezon City represents the brand’s commitment to offering an unparalleled level of comfort, convenience, and contemporary living in prime locations nationwide. 

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