Group lauds gov’t efforts to protect PH Rise

MANILA The Philippine government is heading the right track in the long-term protection of Philippine Rise with President Rodrigo R. Duterte signing a proclamation that declares part of the region a marine resource reserve, an official of an environmental group said Thursday.

In a press briefing in Makati City, Gloria Estenzo Ramos, vice president of international advocacy group Oceana, lauded the Duterte administration's move to declare the 50,000 hectare area in Philippine Rise as a strict protection zone and another 300,000 hectare as Fisheries Management Area (FMA).

Oceana and other organizations recently circulated an online petition calling for the protection of the Philippine Rise. It rallied more than 26,000 supporters and signatories.

Ramos said the campaign was originally a call to declare the 17,000-hectare Benham Bank, the shallowest part of the region, as protected area in July 2017.

"Our campaign on Benham Bank was achieved. We are so happy that President Duterte signed the proclamation," she said.

Ramos said Oceana did not anticipate the proclamation will be signed this year, as the group even planned to gather more support for the crafting of such declaration next month.

"We planned in June that we will be campaigning in grassroots areas (to call need for a proclamation). Now, we will transform it into an education drive... (The government is heading the right track) definitely, but it should still be participatory," Ramos told the Philippine News Agency (PNA). "It cannot be only the government calling the shot."

What's next?

With the progress in the region, the next step now is to engage all stakeholders, Ramos said.

"We've seen small fisherfolk, it's their traditional fishing ground so they should be part of that," she said.

The group is also advocating the conduct of more researches on the area, particularly on the region's biodiversity and connectivity to shallow-reef ecosystems.

Daniel Ocampo, Oceana campaigns manager, said Filipino scientists have barely scratched the surface of whole seabed.

"Our mesophotic reefs or the reefs that are 50 meters, can be the refuge of the future of coral reefs in the shallows," Ocampo said.

This means if one can see the same species in the deeper area and the shallow areas, there is a possibility of some "connectivity." In one of Oceana's expeditions, tiger sharks and eels were sighted.

"If the shallow species die and disappear, there's still hope that the deeper areas like the mesophotic reefs in Benham can actually help repopulate that."

The Philippine Rise is a span of 24.4 million-hectare undersea region located east of Luzon.

It includes a 13.4 million-hectare outer section or an extended continental shelf (ECS) validated by the United Nations' Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) as part of the country's territory in 2012.

In observance of Manila's first successful claim under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Duterte on May 15 participated in the send-off ceremony of 50 Filipino scientists to the Philippine territory.

He announced the presidential proclamation declaring parts of the plateau as protection zone. The document has not been released yet, but it is expected to set the legal framework for the sustainable management of the area.

Two terms were used for the two large chunks of areas mentioned in the declaration 50,000 hectares, including Benham Bank as "strict protection zone," and the other 300,000 hectares as FMA.

In strict protection zone, all human activities, including fishing, are not allowed except for scientific studies while in FMA, only sustainable means of fishing are allowed.

An FMA is regulated by harvest control rules to be implemented by a Protected Area Management Board. These may be through limited issuance of fishing licenses; declaration of closed seasons; and establishing that decommissioned vessels will no longer be replaced. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency

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