Valentine message to Cimatu: Declare Benham Bank a 'no-take' zone

MANILA, Philippines – Environmentalists trooped to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Wednesday, February 14, to deliver a special Valentine’s Day message to DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu: Declare Benham Bank a “no-take” zone.

Ocean conservation and advocacy organization Oceana said in a startement that over 50 institutions and leaders nationwide support the Valentine “love letter” to Cimatu, which was delivered along with over 9,000 signatures from Oceana’s online petition to protect Philippine Rise (Benham Rise).

“The full protection and management of the entire 24-million hectare Philippine Rise might take months. However, there’s something Sec Cimatu can do right now – and that is to have the 17,000-hectare Benham Bank declared as a ‘no-take’ zone,” said Oceana Benham Rise Campaign Team Leader Marianne Saniano.

“Under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, RA 7586, the President can declare certain areas as protected with the endorsement of the DENR Secretary,” Saniano added.

Oceana explained that such a declaration “triggers legal protection” of Benham Bank “from human activity," and that no-take zones "have been proven to work in other coral reefs and protected areas in the Philippines, such as Apo Reef in Mindoro and the famed Tubbataha Reefs in Palawan."

On Wednesday, it was reported that Chinese names had been given to undersea features in Philippine Rise (Benham Rise) approved by an international organization. The Philippines rejected the Chinese names.

Benham Bank

The 17,000-hectare Benham Bank comprises less than 1% of the Philippine Rise and is the shallowest part of the latter.

“We call on our government to immediately declare Benham Bank as a ‘no-take’ zone for the benefit of the Filipino people,” added Pangisda Natin Gawing Tama (PANAGAT), composed of Greenpeace, Oceana Philippines, the World Wide Fund for Nature, Tambuyog, NGOs for Fisheries Reform, Institute for Social Order, Pangisda, and other groups.

PANAGAT and other groups are celebrating the 3rd International Year of the Reef with Benham Bank as one of its highlighted reefs.

“Would it not be a perfect gift to the nation and the world if President Duterte issues a Presidential Proclamation declaring Benham Bank as a ‘no-take’ zone during this year’s observance of the International Year of the Reef?” asked Oceana Philippines Vice President Gloria Estenzo Ramos.

According to Oceana, portions of Benham Bank surveyed by marine scientists in 2014 and 2016 “revealed mesophotic or deep-sea reefs with 100% live coral cover – practically unheard of in the Philippines.”

“Seaweed such as Halimeda, which resembles underwater cactus – were recorded to thrive in waters over 40 meters deep. It is recognized as part of the known spawning area for Pacific bluefin tuna, one of the most expensive fish on Earth,” it added.

Marine Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines Director AA Yaptinchay said the Philippine Rise is a sanctuary for threatened marine species like sharks and rays, dolphins and whales and marine turtles. 

“Anything we do there should not be detrimental to the existence of its marine wildlife populations,” Yaptinchay added.

The environmentalists were accompanied by shark mascots that represented the rich biodiversity in the Philippine Rise.

'SHARKADA'. Shark mascots head to the DENR ala-The Beatles' 'Abbey Road,' to seek legal protection for Benham Bank on February 14, 2018. Photo courtesy of Gregg Yan/Oceana

'SHARKADA'. Shark mascots head to the DENR ala-The Beatles' 'Abbey Road,' to seek legal protection for Benham Bank on February 14, 2018.

Photo courtesy of Gregg Yan/Oceana

The uniqueness and richness of the biodiversity in the area persuaded 196 state parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity to adopt the Philippine Rise as an ecologically and biologically significant area in December 2016, said Oceana Philippines. – Rappler.com