Oceana pushes for science-based protection policy for Benham

 

By Rose de la Cruz 

Happy with President Duterte’s issuance recently of a presidential proclamation governing 50,000 hectares of the Philippine Rise as a strict protection zone and 300,000 hectares as Fisheries Management Area (FMA), Oceana Philippines is working even harder for a science-based sustainable protection policy for the entire 24.4 million- hectare Philippine Rise. 

The Philippine Rise, which has 100 percent coral cover and a spawning ground for the Pacific bluefin tuna, one of the most expensive fish in the world, is touted as the richest biodiversity existing in Asia Pacific region and perhaps even the entire planet. 

In a press conference Thursday, Oceana vice president Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos said more vigilance must be exerted by the Filipinos over Philippine Rise to protect it from poachers, destructive commercial fishing and other practices that would endanger the rich marine biodiversity in known in the modern world. 

Two expeditions have been done on the Philippine Rise and its shallow portion, the Benham Bank, which showed the urgency of launching of a very strict protection program for the entire area and make it a sustainable fishery resource for present and future generations of the world. The last research expedition was done in 2016 by marine scientists, government agencies and other international conservation bodies along with Oceana, which provided the latest technologies for documenting the marine resources of the Philippine Rise.

The proclamation—a testament to the declaration by the United Nations of Benham Rise (now called Philippine Rise) as part of the country’s exclusive economic zone—will hopefully stop other potential territorial claimants of this water body just like what happened to the West Philippine Sea in the past (where China has erected islands for its strategic military operations).

 

Benham/ Philippine Rise 

Benham Rise alone is about 11.4 million hectares while its extended continental shelf is 13 million hectares or 24.4 million hectares, or much bigger than the 30 million hectares land area of the entire Philippines. 

In 2016, some 196 countries declared the Philippine Rise as a pristine and unique area for “biological productivity, diversity and naturalness” during the 13th meeting of the Convention of Parties to the Convention of Biological Diversity in Mexico. 

It is possibly the only place in the Philippines where coral cover is 100 percent, the shallowest portion of which has vast mesophotic reef system (in depths of up to 70 meters or 200 feet) in Benham Bank which can serve as potential refuge for shallow reef organisms that may be affected by climate change.

 

Recommendations 

Oceana said a science-based policy for the protection of Benham Bank (including declaring it a no take zone) and the managed access to the Philippine Rise will ensure sustainable use of the resource while asserting sovereignty should be put in place.  

It also called for more research on both Benham Bank and the Philippine Rise particularly on biodiversity and connectivity to shall-reef ecosystems before any human intervention can take place in the area to ensure that all decisions are based on sound science. 

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, along with other government agencies must formulate a comprehensive and science-based management framework for the protection and sustainable use of the Philippine Rise, Oceana said adding that the regulatory framework is imperative before any human activities can be considered in the area.

 

Citizens’ vigilance 

Learning from the experience of the Spratleys, which had been claimed and on which China built solid structures to assert its ownership over the islands, Oceana said citizens’ vigilance, especially those in coastal areas near Benham Bank and the Philippine Rise, is most imperative.

Ramos reminded the people that a Supreme Court ruling allows the free filing of suits against any violators of the environment, just as international organizations are vigilantly protecting the oceans and seas against overfishing, destructive fishing methods and encroachment. 

"It is only through vigilance by individuals and local governments and government regulatory agencies that we can stop such destructive activities from raping our marine resources want only," Ramos added.

"We have no problem with laws to protect our marine resources. In fact, we are world class in this area. But what we sorely lack is the enforcement of such laws," Ramos said.

 

 

 

 

 

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