A hundred dancers and three shark mascots staged a flash mob at the Quezon City Memorial Circle on 21 May to celebrate the proclamation declaring portions of the Philippine Rise as a protected area.
President Rodrigo Duterte issued the landmark environmental policy by declaring more than 350,000 hectares of the Philippine Rise as a marine resource reserve, under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act. Almost 50,000 hectares of the marine reserve was declared as a strict-protection zone, where only scientific research is allowed.
“The Philippine Rise represents our hope for a sustainable future. As other parts of our country’s territories are under siege by illegal and destructive extraction activities, Philippine Rise serves as our country’s source and sanctuary of our remaining natural heritage,” Biodiversity Management Bureau Director Crisanta Marlene Rodriguez said in a statement.
Volunteers from a host of environmental organizations, including Oceana, Buklod Tao, and Eco-waste Coalition, also unveiled a banner thanking the government for declaring the Philippine Rise as a marine resource reserve.
“Let us all work harder to protect, manage and conserve this unique biodiversity,” Rodriguez added.
PAngisda NAtin GAwing Tama (PaNaGat), a network of NGO’s and people’s organizations working for sustainable fisheries, also hailed the collaborative efforts of scientists, government agencies and civil society organizations in working for the declaration of the Presidential proclamation.
“Protecting the Philippine Rise is crucial and timely, and ushers in new hope for the world’s oceans devastated by overfishing, pollution, mining and climate change. It is also important that similar move to protect key marine resources in other parts of the country be given urgent and necessary protection,” PaNaGat said in a statement.
AA Yaptinchay, director of Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines lauded the declaration, adding that the Philippine Rise is an important habitat for marine wildlife, particularly dolphins and whales, marine turtles as well as sharks and rays.
Declared a protected area by President Rodrigo Duterte via Presidential Proclamation 489 last May 15, the Philippine Rise is a 24.4 million hectare undersea region located east of Luzon, which includes a 13.4 million hectare outer section that was validated by the United Nations’ Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLOS) as part of Philippine territory in 2012.
The shallowest part of the region is Benham Bank, with a depth of at least 50 meters. In 2016, government scientists reported 100% coral cover in several sampling sites, plus over 170 types of fish. The Philippine Rise is also special as it has been identified as the only known spawning site for Pacific Bluefin Tuna, one of the most valuable fish on Earth.
Oceana, which joined the May 2016 government-led expedition to the Philippine Rise, has been working with partners and allies to protect and conserve the iconic place, circulating an online petition which rallied over 26,000 supporters, for the declaration of the portion of the Philippine Rise as a protected area, with the Benham Bank as a no-take zone.
Lawyer Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Vice President for Oceana Philippines, said that the pooled efforts to protect the Philippine Rise is laudable, and should be sustained.
“Government and key stakeholders need to work together to ensure that transparent and science-based policies will be in place, for a sustainable and effective management of the Philippine Rise. The government must continue to allocate resources to strengthen and capacitate more scientists and citizens, and pave the way to restore our once bountiful seas. With the declaration done, the real work of conservation and enforcement begins,” Ramos said.