Environmental groups give DENR Secretary love letter on Valentine’s Day
Led by four dancing shark mascots, environmentalists visited the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to deliver a special Valentine’s Day love letter to DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu.
The content of the card to protect the Philippine Rise was supported by over 50 institutions and leaders nationwide and asked Sec. Cimatu to declare Benham Bank, the shallowest part of the Philippine Rise, as a ‘no-take’ zone. Delivered along with the letter were over 9000 signatures from Oceana’s online petition to protect the Philippine Rise.
“The full protection and management of the entire 24-million hectare Philippine Rise might take months,” explains Oceana Benham Rise Campaign Team Leader Marianne Saniano. “However, there’s something Sec. Cimatu can do right now – and that is to have the 17,000 hectare Benham Bank declared as a ‘no-take’ zone.” Under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, RA-7586, the President can declare certain areas as protected with the endorsement of the DENR Secretary.
The declaration of Benham Bank as a ‘no-take’ zone triggers legal protection of the pristine area from human activity. Spanning 17,000 hectares, it occupies less than 1% of the Philippine Rise. ‘No-take’ zones have been proven to work in other coral reefs and protected areas in the Philippines, such as Apo Reef in Mindoro and the famed Tubbataha Reefs in Palawan.
What is Benham Bank?
Benham Bank is the shallowest part of the Philippine Rise. Portions surveyed by marine scientists in 2014 and 2016 revealed mesophotic or deep-sea reefs with 100% live coral cover – practically unheard of in the Philippines. Seaweed such as Halimeda, which resembles underwater cactus – were recorded to thrive in waters over 40 meters deep. It is recognized as part of the known spawning area for Pacific bluefin tuna, one of the most expensive fish on Earth.
“We expect that the pristine Philippine Rise harbors a variety of healthy marine wildlife populations, including sharks and rays, dolphins and whales and marine turtles. With much of the inner Philippine Seas disturbed, overfished and polluted – the Philippine Rise is a sanctuary for these threatened species. Anything we do there should not be detrimental to the existence of its marine wildlife populations,” added Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines Director AA Yaptinchay.
These findings of the uniqueness and richness of the biodiversity in the area persuaded 196 State parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity to adopt the Philippine Rise as an ecologically and biologically significant area in December 2016.
“We call on our government to immediately declare Benham Bank as a ‘no-take’ zone for the benefit of the Filipino people,” added Pangisda Natin Gawing Tama (PANAGAT), composed of Greenpeace, Oceana Philippines, the World Wide Fund for Nature, Tambuyog, NGOs for Fisheries Reform, Institute for Social Order, Pangisda and other groups. PANAGAT and other groups are celebrating the 3rd International Year of the Reef (IYOR) with Benham Bank as one of its highlighted reefs.
“Would it not be a perfect gift to the nation and the world if President Duterte issues a Presidential Proclamation declaring Benham Bank as a ‘no-take’ zone during this year’s observance of the International Year of the Reef?” says Oceana Philippines Vice President Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos. “We shall eagerly await this positive development.”
Environmentalists converge to protect Benham Bank outside the DENR headquarters in Quezon City. (Gregg Yan / Oceana)