June 16, 2021
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Conservation International are now preparing the design of a $4 million project to be funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to conserve and protect the Benham Bank and sustain its near pristine condition.
The proposed five-year project, titled Philippine Rise Integrated Conservation for
Enduring Legacies through Ecosystem Support Services (PRICELESS) will be financed under the 7th Replenishment Cycle of the Global Environment Facility (GEF-7). It will be executed by the DENR in partnership with NGOs (non-government organizations), Conservation International and Rare Philippines.
GEF-7 will provide a $4 million grant, with an expected co-financing from the Philippine government, conservation partners, and other key stakeholders in the Philippine Rise Region.
GEF-7 PRICELESS aims to address the need to ramp up and build capacity to
protect and manage the waters, reefs, and natural resources in the Philippine Rise
Marine Resource Reserve (PRMRR).
Philippine Rise: Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area. Credit-DA
The PRMRR is composed of the Benham Bank and its surrounding waters, being the first National Integrated Protected Areas System Marine Protected Area (NIPAS MPA) in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Given the vast, offshore areas in the Philippine Rise, the project also aims to strengthen coordination and partnership between the DENR, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Navy, among many others.
It has been a long way since the discovery of pristine coral reefs, expansive seaweed (Caulerpa sp.) meadows, and other benthic habitats lying 40-80 meters beneath the surface in the Benham Bank. It was the result of the first two inter-agency expeditions in 2014 and 2016 of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP MSI), UP Los Baños, and the DA BFAR.
These habitats are a haven for marine biodiversity in the Philippine EEZ — the Pacific Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus orientalis) and the Big eye Tuna (Thunnus obesus) both classified as ‘Vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. Found there too are the billfish, butterflyfish and other commercially important fish, rays, and schools of sharks.
Philippine Rise. Credit-flipscience.ph
Alongside the discovery of the rich biodiversity of the Benham Bank was the
granting, acceptance, and recognition by the United Nations Commission on the
Limits of the Continental Shelf of Philippines’ Extended Continental Shelf in the Philippine
The PRMRR was also declared as an Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area or
EBSA by the Convention on Biological Diversity back in 2016, granting the area the
international recognition it deserves.
However, it is through the issuance of Presidential Proclamation No. 489 in 2018
that PRMRR is being managed and operated.
The DENR has initiated that the PRMRR be declared a full-fledged NIPAS Marine Protected Area.
DENR’s effort to upgrade its status as a NIPAS MPA started with multiple Management Planning and interim PAMB (Protected Area Management Board) meetings from 2018 to 2021, leading up to the upcoming deliberations of a proposed PRMRR Bill through the House Committee for Natural Resources.
There is much more to be discovered in the depths of the Philippine Rise, from its
marine biodiversity, geological history, and full potential to provide ecosystem services, food security, for Filipinos all over the country.
The reefs, habitats and biodiversity there, while still in the near pristine condition when they
were first discovered must be closely monitored to observe any changes.
PRMRR should be given stronger protection given the growing interest brought about by its rich fisheries resources and other possible threats from climate change and unsustainable fishing practices.
The PRICELESS Project is indeed something to look forward to and will play a
critical role in strengthening the PRMRR’s status as a NIPAS MPA.
Its Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) should be constituted to secure the
sustainable management and protection of the fisheries and natural resources in the
entire Philippine Rise Region for the benefit of present and future generations. (Melody Mendoza Aguiba)