The World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which is composed of top global business leaders, has recognized that “biodiversity is at the core of sustainable development … it is everywhere and it is everyone’s business.”
Marine biodiversity simply refers to the species richness and abundance in the oceans and seas. The center of such richness and abundance is in our country according to Dr. Maricor Soriano, summit discussant, and head of the UP Institute of Physics Video and Image Processing Laboratory.
She explained further why protecting marine biodiversity should matter to all of us. She said that coral reefs, the “forest of the sea,” serve as habitat for aquatic life that provides food and jobs. They protect coastal communities from storm surges and tsunamis. Keeping them healthy is a concern of all. Inland activities can cause sedimentation and soil erosion that can kill them.
Some issues, challenges, opportunities and recommended measures
In developing a blue economy, ocean security is a major issue, especially for our country due to our West Philippine Sea dispute with China. Through his opening video message at our summit, Dr. Viktor Sebek, founding chair and president of the Ocean Security International (OSI) emphasized that interconnectivity in this modern world has expanded the boundaries of ocean security as it now also affects food security, energy security, health security, and economic security.
But to former Sen Leticia Shahani, summit discussant, the basic issue is our poor understanding of who we are.
“We are a maritime nation so we must behave as such,” she stressed.
Indeed, we are an archipelago of 7,107 islands, with 220 million hectares of water area, seven times bigger than our 29.8 million hectares of land area, and with one of the world’s longest coastlines of 36,289 kilometers. More than half of our population lives within 60 km of that coastline.
Although we have not attended well enough to them, our coastal and marine resources have been contributing billions to our economy annually (about P200 billion in one estimate). Yet our fisherfolk are some of the poorest of our poor and close to one-half of our coastal residents are below the poverty line.
Summit speaker Scott Countryman, managing director of the Coral Triangle Conservancy, Inc., provided a comprehensive list of the issues and challenges (from the plight of poor coastal communities to the main global issue, climate change), the opportunities, and some recommended measures.
The other summit presenters and most of the participants also shared their respective lists. A summary of these will be in our summit report that will soon be accessible at www.map.org.ph
The following are a few major topics with specific action points.
Resolution of the West Philippine Sea issue
Speaker Sr. Associate Justice Antonio Carpio clarified the two aspects of this issue and how we can address them.
The territorial dispute part of the issue, he said, can be addressed through the creation by claimant states of the Spratlys Marine Protected Peace Park (SMPPP), where fishing and destructive activities shall be prohibited. It shall be managed by a Commission composed of representatives from the claimant States (China, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei), which shall suspend their territorial claims to the Spratlys for the next 100 years.
On the other hand, the maritime dispute part of the issue can be addressed through the dispute settlement mechanism of UNCLOS, to which all the disputant states are parties.
One major reference on this issue is the 1734 Murillo-Velarde Map, which Mel Velarde, Chair of the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC), bought from a Sotheby auction.
This ancient Philippine map, which he kindly lent for our summit, shows the Panatag Shoal and some features of the Spratly Group of Islands as part of the Philippines.
Speaker Sen. Loren Legarda, meanwhile, requested Justice Carpio to help draft a bill that will set up the SMPPP. She committed to sponsor it and work on its early passage.
Need for integrated and effective governance of the ‘blue’ environment
This need requires coordinated actions by both the public and private sectors, from policy formulation to operations. At the policy and legislative levels, Philippine Navy head Vice Admiral Caesar Taccad called for the review and updating of the Fisheries Code and the National Marine Policy.
He also asked that the implementing rules and regulations for the National Coast Watch System be approved soon.
Many government agencies are now involved in various aspects of the blue environment—biodiversity, fishery, maritime security, coastal protection, water pollution, water resources regulation, etc.
The challenge is to link them effectively at both the planning and operational levels and to create partnerships with business and civil society in addressing specific issues.
One initiative is the Philippine Navy’s plan to bring about closer coordination and collaboration with businesses and private citizens on matters of common concern, such as ensuring freedom and safety of navigation.
Making ocean security, marine biodiversity, and the blue environment concerns of all
Our summit recognized the lack of public awareness and understanding of this topic. Ms. Elvira Ablaza, President and CEO of PRIMEX, suggested strong information, education, and communication campaign to raise public awareness of the key issues and challenges.
The IEC campaign must include social media, which can reach various groups, especially the youth who must be mobilized also to help shape a blue economy.
Vicky Wieneke, president of the NGO, Kabisig ng Kalahi, suggested including “care of the sea” in values formation, which she will apply in Kabisig’s community work. OSI, at its inaugural conference in Nov. 2014, recognized also the importance of culture—in the form of art, music, and theatre, to engage, educate, and inspire citizens. This is part of OSI’s Lima Declaration, which we will also upload at www.map.org.ph.
Educators must be involved. Sen. Shahani wants them and their students to learn first how to swim—in the sea, not in swimming pools! Some educators in the audience proposed including marine science and blue environment subjects in basic education. Noted environmental lawyer Tony Oposa invited all to visit his SEA Camp in Bantayan Island, Cebu, where kids and local people are taught how to value the sea and our other resources. Countryman announced the Climate Reality in June 2016 in Manila for 3000 teachers—an educational project of Al Gore.
Need for innovative solutions and investments
Priority areas in a blue economy that require innovative technological solutions are: Assessment and monitoring of blue environmental resources, rehabilitation of coral reefs, sustainable aquaculture, fish feeds, use of information and communication technology (ICT) for marketing and improved management, food safety, and fish processing. The newly formed Sustainable Development Solutions Network Philippines can bring together those who have problems, as well as opportunities, and those in the academic and research community who can develop solutions for them.
One innovation presented at our summit is for monitoring of “Life below water.” Dr. Soriano and her team at the UP Institute of Physics have developed “Teardrop,” which, together with the “Kiko and Stitch” software, provides automated rapid reef visualization and assessment. This technology may be used for a nationwide survey of coral reefs and seascape to know what we need to manage and how. Local government units can be taught how to use it to assess the state of their reefs periodically and after disastrous events.
Our summit identified also several initiatives to promote investments in the blue economy and help fisher folks become entrepreneurs. PEMSEA’s recent initiatives are the East Asian Seas Sustainable Business Network of forward-thinking companies and investors who can help build a blue economy in the region, and an inventory of over 300 potential coastal management investment opportunities. Two presentors, Alfredo Pedrosa III and Maximo Ricohermoso, are seaweed industry businessmen and leaders who are helping make the industry grow. Seaweed now accounts for 97 percent of mariculture production but the global demand for its many applications is high and still increasing fast.
They committed to help our MAP CDS Committee with our seaweed project in Mindoro Occidental.
Note of thanks and a call for more action
We thank our Summit presentors and participants, especially former Sen. Shahani for her passionate discourse about our being a maritime nation and former Prime Minister Cesar Virata, the first to register for our summit. Special thanks to our partners and sponsors—Brig. Gen. Alex Escano, Now Corp., Metrobank Foundation, Toby’s Sports, Coca-Cola, and CHEERS.
Thanks also to all the artists who joined our Art Exhibition on the Blue Environment and to others who helped us, including our MAP Secretariat.
We now call on our business leaders to apply TLC—Top management to Lead by example in Caring for our blue environment. Invest in sustainable coastal and marine projects.
Integrate biodiversity conservation in your priorities. Share your best practices with others. Lead in shaping a new blue economy that can provide inclusive and sustainable development despite climate change risk.
(The author, director of Asiapro Foundation, served as Chair of the 2nd M.A.P. Summit on Climate Change. She is Co-Chair, M.A.P. CDS Committee; Chair, Scientific and Academic Advisory Board, OSI; and Member, Board of Advisers, Philippine Navy. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. For previous articles, please visit map.org.ph)