Marine conservationists urge gov’t to protect Benham Rise
Marine conservationists have joined the call for the government to uphold Philippine sovereignty over Benham Rise – mostlty for the purpose of protecting its natural resources.
Benham Rise, which covers 13 million hectares of extended continental shelf east of Northern Luzon, was validated in 2012 by the United Nations’ Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf as the Philippines’ newest territory.
Recently, reports of Chinese vessels surveying the area has triggered public alarm.
Oceana, a nongovernment conservation group, noted that Benham Bank, the shallowest part of Benham Rise, had an “astounding 100 percent coral cover” discovered during a survey conducted last May 2016 by government scientists and academics, joined by Oceana.
It’s also home to various marine resources. Scientists have documented a deep-sea reef ecosystem at a minimum depth of 50 meters, which Oceana said was “a potential source and refuge for shallow reef fish and other marine organisms which can be affected by climate change.”
“Benham Rise is part of Philippine territory,” Gloria Estenzo Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines, said in a statement issued on Friday. “We must exercise our sovereignty over this area and assert our rights. The immediate creation of a management framework to ensure the protection of this special place and the conservation of its marine resources is a compelling first step.”
Oceana noted that the 100-percent coral cover at Benham Bank was “extremely rare.”
“With 100-percent coral cover, this area is possibly the only place left in Philippine waters in such a pristine state,” Ramos said. “Further research should be done to ensure that the area is developed sustainably. We must work together and exercise our sovereign rights to nurture and protect it – a first step would be to declare Benham Bank as a ‘no-take’ zone, immediately protecting it from any exploitation.”
Oceana has come out with an online petition urging the protection of Benham Rise. So far, the petition has garnered more than 800 signatories. /atm
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