Protecting our seas

posted August 04, 2018 at 06:45 pm
by  Bob Zozobrado
I didn’t know that Manila Bay is rich in sardines, and neither did I know that our country is declared by scientists as “center of the center of marine biodiversity” because of its rich marine life on a per hectare basis. Unfortunately, this marine “wealth” is rapidly getting lost due to overfishing and illegal fishing.

These interesting facts I learned when my friends and I had a leisurely lunch with the officers of Oceana Philippines, an agency that works to restore our fisheries abundance through sustainable management interventions. Established in 2014, it bats for the strong enforcement of fisheries laws, to fight illegal and destructive fishing, toward the protection of marine habitats.

Its mother agency, Oceana, which was founded in 2001, is a science-based ocean conservation group, the largest international organization focused solely on ocean conservation. Its offices around the world work together on strategic and directed campaigns to help make our oceans more biodiverse and abundant.

Branching corals serve as home to reef fishes.
Let’s take a closer look at one portion of our marine “wealth”—the Philippines Rise or more popularly known as the Benham Rise. It spans an area of 11.4 million hectares. In addition to its 13-million-hectare Extended Continental Shelf, it totals 24.4 million hectares. It is almost as large as the total land area of our country, which is 30 million hectares.

During the 2016 Convention of Biological Diversity in Mexico, the world’s 196 countries declared Benham Rise as an Ecologically and Biologically Significant Marine Area (EBSA), which means its uniqueness and rarity are of special importance to the life history stages of some species which may be threatened, endangered, or declining due to the vulnerability, fragility, or sensitivity of its habitat.

A team of marine scientists found a dazzling array of soft and hard corals, fish, algae, and sponges in Benham Rise. They reported that there were terraces of corals, as far as the eye could see. This rich biodiversity could ensure our country’s food security if conserved properly.

A juvenile emperor angelfish and epaulette soldierfish taking shelter among Hallimeda.
Two years ago, Alexandra Cousteau, granddaughter of the world-famous ocean explorer, Jacques Cousteau, spent two weeks in the country and urged the government to ensure that our marine resources would be protected from commercial exploitation. This, after scientists identified more than 150 species of reef fishes, and reported that Benham Rise is the only known spawning area of the Pacific Bluefin Tuna, one of the most expensive fishes in the world.

What has brought damage to these protected areas? Bottom trawling is one reason. This is a method of fishing which uses a cone-shaped net to catch bottom-dwelling creatures and invertebrates. This is done by our fishermen who are after the bottom-dwelling shrimp and prawn.

Although the trawl targets specific species, its wide, weighted net catches any creature in its trail. When the net is brought up to the surface, these unwanted creatures are simply discarded dying or dead. The heavy trawl net also scrapes the seafloor, and can leave deep grooves, definitely destroying whatever corals there are in its path, aside from creating large amounts of sediment. All these disturbances certainly destroy the area’s ecosystem, and deprive the local villagers of their convenient source of food.

Oceana Philippines vice president Gloria Ramos
According to Marianne Pan-Saniano of Oceana Philippines, another big threat to Benham Rise’s large mesophotic (water with low light penetration) ecosystem is the surging interest in the oil and natural gas reserves underneath it. Of course, if managed well, exploration and conservation can co-exist.

Gloria Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines and a member of the Executive Committee of Oceana International, says that Benham Rise is a unique, precious, and global natural heritage that we, Filipinos, not only owe to our small fishermen and their families but also to the rest of the world to protect. As far as I’m concerned, we should all be grateful for the marine “wealth” that God has blessed the seas around us with, and should always be mindful of how to conserve it for our children and for the many generations to come.


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Topics: Manila Bay , Oceana Philippines , marine habitats , Philippines Rise , Benham Rise
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