Diverse marine life found in Benham Rise

Marine scientists from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), University of the Philippines (UP), and Oceana Philippines said they found a wide array of corals, fish and other marine life during a recent expedition to Benham Rise.

According to Oceana, the scientists observed a vast coverage of coral reefs in the Philippines’s newest territory.

“We saw terraces of corals, as far as the eye could see. It’s so exciting to know that we have such a vast and pristine coral-reef ecosystem within Philippine territory,” Oceana marine scientist Marianne Pan-Saniano said in a statement.

Oceana said the expedition team documented a vast mesophotic reef ecosystem—coral reefs found at depths of up to 150 meters. Scientists believe such deep-sea reefs can serve as a potential refuge for shallow-reef fishes that could be affected by climate change.

“Collectively, among the decades of experience studying the ocean that we have aboard the ship, no one has ever seen reefs like this. Benham is indeed a special place,” said Margot Stiles, Oceana director of science
and strategy.

Benham Bank is the shallowest portion of Benham Rise, which includes an outer section recognized by the United Nations’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf as the Philippines’s newest territory in 2012.

The seamount lies off the eastern coast of Luzon.

This is the second science expedition conducted in Benham Bank, according to Oceana.

The expedition team boarded government research vessel MV DA-BFAR on May 23 and returned on May 31. Fisheries and algae experts, microbiologists, oceanographers and ecologists from the BFAR, UP Marine Science Institute, UP Los Baños School of Environmental Science and Management, and Oceana joined the trip to study the biophysical composition of Benham Bank.

Technical divers from the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard also assisted the researchers in collecting samples from Benham Bank’s seabed.

Scientists, during the expedition, were able to study the Benham Bank more extensively with the aid of cutting-edge technologies, such as remotely operated vehicles (ROV) and the baited remote underwater video stations (BRUVS).

The ROV took underwater photos and videos for two hours on a daily basis, while the BRUVS explored the deeper parts of the ocean and took five hours’ worth of footage to determine fish diversity and biomass.