Amid the looming El Niño, scientists find themselves in a tight spot, compelling them to do more research to come up with science-based solutions to the problem brought about by climate change to the country’s rich marine biodiversity.
At the forefront of recent discussions on the future of the country’s marine ecosystem and the people who depend on the so-called blue economy, scientists from the University of the Philippines Diliman-College of Science’s Marine Science Institute (UPD-CS MSI) presented over 100 papers at the recent 17th National Symposium on Marine Science in Batangas City from July 20 to 22.
With the theme, “Saving Our Seas: Restoring Marine Systems for People and Nature,” the national symposium was sponsored by the Philippine Association of Marine Science (PAMS).
It was held on the heels of the World Meteorological Organization’s warning that global sea surface temperatures hit all-time record highs in June.
Knowledge-sharing, best practices
During the event, Dr. Gil Jacinto, who recently retired from MSI, highlighted the importance of the country’s researchers in his speech.
Dr. Florence Onda, MSI deputy director for research, meanwhile, said that symposiums like that by PAMS give UPD MSI an opportunity to share results and best practices to other researchers.
“The discussions allow us to build on what we already know, help others progress in their own work and learn from feedback on how to improve further,” Onda said.
“Moreover, PAMS strengthens camaraderie, widens networks, and facilitates future collaborations,” he added.
Dr. Jayvee A. Saco, PAMS 17 president and organizer of the event that is held every two years, said it is an avenue for everyone in the Philippines, and even those from abroad, to gather in one venue and share scientific research on marine science.
Wealth of knowledge in marine science
The Philippines has a wealth of knowledge in marine science, thanks to scientists and researchers who tirelessly work to learn about the effects of climate change to the country’s marine ecosystem.
During the event, at least 230 oral presentations and more than 130 poster presentations geared toward the restoration of marine research, said Saco, a 2020-2021 Balik Scientist of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). He is also the head of the Verde Island Passage Center for Oceanographic Research and Aquatic Life Sciences-Labo Campus.
“This is the best time for us to share our research and have information on best practices from different universities, NGOs [nongovernment organizations], academe and government,” said Saco, an expert from the Batangas State University who the BusinessMirror interviewed via Zoom on July 30.
Experts from various fields of marine science spoke during the plenary. Besides the plenary, a total of 230 parallel sessions were simultaneously held during the three-day symposium, wherein current trends in marine science, best practices and the latest technology, such as in aquaculture, were discussed, especially those being cultured, to boost production.
Younger scientists, researchers
Scientists and researchers in marine science are now attracting younger generations of scientists and researchers as observed in the symposium.
“The trend is that many young scientists and researchers are now getting involved in marine science,” which is very encouraging for the future of marine science in the Philippines, Saco pointed out.
He said that younger researchers are actively helping in the knowledge-generation task of experts in various fields of marine science.
“We observed that a lot of participants are joining and doing more research and their studies are very much aligned to the theme of the symposium,” Saco said.
Resilience to climate change
The symposium, he noted, covered challenges posed by the changing climate and changing environment, including El Niño, which is seriously posing a threat to the country’s marine ecosystem and rich biodiversity.
In the face of El Niño, the importance of research in marine science is highlighted, said Charina Lyn Amedo-Repollo, program head, Professional Masters in Tropical Marine Ecosystems Management and Assistant Professor in Physical Oceanography at the UPD MSI.
“Marine science is very important; you learn a lot of disciplines. It is very important for an archipelagic country like the Philippines,” said Amedo-Repollo, underscoring the vast potential of harnessing resources in the so-called blue economy during a separate interview with the BusinessMirror via Zoom on July 30.
Filling the knowledge gap
According to Amedo-Repollo, while there are tons of researches in marine science, there is still a wide gap that compels more studies on the subject matter, particularly because of climate change.
For one, she said the Philippines has no economic valuation of the various ecosystem services. Studies on putting value to the country’s natural resources, like corals, mangroves, and other habitat-forming species, or the marine species themselves are still lacking.
She added that the country lacks a national database on marine resources, which is a must for the country to know on what needs to be protected, harnessed, or used to maximize the benefits from the so-called “blue economy.
“Other countries like Japan and the US have national database of their natural resources. We don’t,” Amedo-Repollo lamented.
“We are recommending to our national government to have a centralized database. We have database from Namria [National Mapping and Resource Information Authority], there is also database on biodiversity, but they are bits and pieces,” she explained.
Climate change-related research
According to Amedo-Repollo, El Niño is very evident in the country’s weather pattern.
“We feel it. If there’s El Niño, we experience drought [while] there’s flooding in other parts. It impacts on agriculture, fisheries, flora and fauna, and there are organisms and animals that could not cope with the effect of El Niño,” she pointed out.
It’s adverse impact in terrestrial area also affects the marine environment.
“We have this so-called ridge-to-reef approach in environmental protection and conservation. What happens to our forest also affects our reefs and coastal and marine environment,” she added.
On the marine environment, El Niño has adverse impact, such as coral bleaching.
Amedo-Repollo said while there are indeed tons of researches, the challenge is how to translate them into policies.
“The government knows there is a need for scientific research. They even fund some researches. Even the DENR [Department of Environment and Natural Resources] recognizes the importance of research and they use it in planning. This includes taking into account climate change,” she said.
Dr. Aletta T. Yñiguez, an expert in Marine Ecology, Biological Oceanogagraphy and Ecological Modeling, said there is still a wide gap in marine science research, to ensure science-based management of the country’s marine resources.
A professor at the UPD MSI and head of UP Cradle that is based in Puerto Galera, Yñiguez told the BusinessMirror via telephone interview on July 31 that impacts of climate change, such as on El Niño, affect behaviors of fish and other marine wildlife.
Yñiguez, whose most recent work on long term trends for the northern Zamboanga sardine fishery including climate/the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, said sardines are affected by change in temperature of the ocean.
She cited a recent study by a team of researchers focused on the effect of El Niño to sardines production, underscoring the economic importance of sardines as part of the dietary requirements of Filipinos, to canning industry, and of subsistence fishermen who depend on the bounty of the ocean.
“We need long-term planning for fisheries based on this research. We need to know why fisheries production is going down, besides overfishing, what is affecting our fish stock,” she said.
According to Yñiguez, other marine species and the marine environment are affected by climate change.
She agreed that there is a need to come up with science-based policies to effectively manage the country’s resources, with intense research focusing on marine science.
“We really need to do more collaborative research—a collaboration between the academe, the government and other funding institutions and other stakeholders—and translate these researches into meaningful policies and action to maximize the benefits of having a healthy and biodiversity-rich marine environment,” Yñiguez pointed out.