MARINE scientists dedicated to research about the marine ecosystem in the South China Sea are direly needed to protect the depleting coral reefs and fisheries in the area.
Deo Florence Onda, microbial oceanographer from UP Marine Science Institute, said the South China Sea face environmental threats that affect not only the Philippines but the entire Indo-Pacific region.
Aside from the usual threats such as oil spills, poaching and coral harvesting, other emerging threats include the artificial island building of China, water pollution brought by plastics and sewage disposal from vessels of military and militias, and climate change.
“The environmental protection of the South China Sea—because of the innate interconnectivity of the habitats—is a shared problem…. The only way to do that probably is through research,” Onda said during the forum organized by independent advisory and consultancy group Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies.
However, there are only a few Filipino marine scientists compared to other countries claiming the South China Sea. According to the UP-MSI, there are 541 Filipino marine scientists researching 36,289 kilometers of coastline, the fifth longest in the world.
Worst, there is now a “growing trend” of marine scientific researches being done by other countries within the Philippine EEZ, Onda added. Commodore Jay Tarriela, spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, lamented that while the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Navy personnel were able to document the coral reefs in the West Philippine Sea, they lack scientific capabilities and expertise to analyze the extent of the destruction.
Recently, the AFP and PCG released shocking videos of the destruction of coral reefs in the Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal, which are within the Philippines’s maritime zone.
“Despite the release of these photos and videos for almost a week now, and our efforts to coordinate and expedite the need for exploration in these areas with marine scientists, we have not yet reached an agreement on the timing of such an [marine scientific] expedition. Consequently, the PCG is having difficulty in conducting a scientific expedition in these maritime features due to the limited availability of marine scientists in the country who are already committed to their ongoing research projects. Despite the urgency and national security implications of the matter, the PCG is constrained by the availability of marine scientists and their schedules,” Tarriela said in a statement read during the forum.
He suggested for the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea to instruct marine scientists in public institutions “to prioritize research in areas with national security implications.”
Prof. Jay Batongbacal, international maritime law expert, said that during the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine government failed to call out China for the damage it caused in the coral reefs for building artificial islands.
This even after the arbitral tribunal said that China violated provisions in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) for destroying the marine life with the construction of artificial islands.
“I myself, some years ago noted that more than 500 hectares of Scarborough Shoal had been destroyed in those intervening years between 2012 and 2016 [when the Philippine government did not called out China after the ruling],” Batongbacal said.
Image credits: DOST-SEI