Foreign vessels spotted within the Philippines’ Benham Rise–Department of National Defense

MANILA–The Department of National Defense (DND) has reported that foreign vessels were spotted within the Benham Rise, an active undersea region located in the Philippine Sea approximately 250 km east of the northern coastline of Dinapigue, Isabela.

Oceana Philippines, part of the expedition team led by government scientists which explored the area in May last year, urges government agencies to expedite the adoption of the management framework in Benham Rise to protect and sustainably manage the undersea region.

“Benham Rise is an important marine resource for the Filipinos, and holds tremendous potential for discovering more unique species and outstanding samples of marine resources.  We need to prioritize its protection, including the pristine Benham Bank as a no-take zone,” lawyer Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Vice-President for Oceana Philippines, said.

It was learned that the expedition team discovered  vast and pristine coral reef ecosystem in Benham Bank, the shallowest portion of the area. Scientists observed one hundred percent coral cover in the surveyed area, with a wide variety of colorful branching and plate corals.

The expedition team also documented a vast mesophotic reef ecosystem – coral reefs found at depths of up to 150 meters (492 feet). Scientists believe such deep sea reefs can serve as a potential source and refuge for shallow reef fishes and other marine organisms that could be affected by climate change.

Known also as Benham Plateau, the region includes an outer section recognized by the United Nations’ Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLOS) as the Philippines’ newest territory in 2012, which expanded the region from 11.4 million hectares to 24.4 million hectares, an area about the same size as Luzon.

“Our government should not hesitate to exercise its sovereign right and responsibility in exploring, conserving and managing the natural resources of the region to ensure that we wield effective exercise of our jurisdiction in Benham Rise. The management framework would be a much needed road map to effectively manage and protect our precious natural heritage,” Ramos said.

The management plan is envisioned to also include an enforcement plan for biodiversity conservation, fisheries, and commercial and economic activities in the area, to ensure that violators such as poachers or illegal commercial fishers will be properly apprehended and prosecuted.

Recently, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources- Biodiversity and Management Bureau (DENR-BMB) held a series of consultations and workshops involving various government agencies and stakeholders for the development of a management framework for the protection of Benham Rise.

The Senate has likewise held a public hearing on the creation of the Benham Rise Development Authority, to identify sustainable, scientific and technological approaches for the development of Benham Rise.

Oceana Philippines is working with government agencies to push for a scientifically-sound management framework, which would prioritize the biodiversity and conservation aspects of the Benham Rise Region, especially the Benham Bank, which is the shallowest portion of the Rise. It pushes for the protection of Benham Bank because of the iconic area’s tremendous biological resources that requires immediate protection.

“We all recognize the significance of Benham Rise for food security, climate change adaptation, and for the sustenance of the Filipinos, now and in the future. We need to act fast in protecting it from external threats such as territorial encroachments, over-fishing and other exploitative activities,” Ramos said. Northbound Philippines News