In another step forward to protect the ocean, President Rodrigo Duterte has declared Philippine Rise (Benham Rise) as a marine protected area (MPA).
Environmental groups have recently being campaigning for the Filipino President to declare a portion of the biodiverse area to become an MPA. The announcement came during his visit to the area to mark the first anniversary of renaming the underwater land mass.
Gloria Ramos, vice president of the Philippine chapter of international ocean conservation nonprofit Oceana, said that a petition was sent to the Palace in July 2017, which sought the proclamation of Philippine Rise as a protected area and of Benham Bank, the shallowest portion of the Philippine Rise, as a no-take zone.
The area is 13 million hectares of extended continental shelf that the Philippines was awarded sovereign rights in 2012. It is larger than Luzon, the Philippines’ biggest island, and is one of the most diverse underwater zones in the world.
According to marine law expert Jay Batongbacal, Benham Rise is also potentially a rich source of natural gas and other resources such as heavy metals.
In May of 2017, Duterte renamed Benham Rise to Philippine Rise, after Chinese vessels were discovered to be surveying the area.
Sen. Edgardo Angara Jr. and Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon of the Philippines have filed separate bills seeking the creation of a body in charge of studying, developing, and conserving the area.
Apart from having a “100-percent coral cover,” Philippine Rise is also the breeding area of the Pacific bluefin tuna, one of the world’s most expensive fish.
A 2014 research cruise by scientists from the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, UP Los Baños, and the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources at Benham Bank revealed at least 11 reef-building, two solitary coral, and 62 fish species, which makes it an “important area for fisheries.”