Filipinos dive into the waters of Benham Rise for the first time

MANILA, Philippines –  For the first time, Filipinos dive into Benham Rise, an underwater plateau now part of Philippine territory. What’s the significance of Benham Rise and how can it impact our future?

Paterno Esmaquel reports.

(Watch Rappler's video report below)

(The script of the video report follows)

It's the first time divers see the new territory.

A place 50 meters under the sea: Benham Rise, the newest part of the Philippines.

The Philippines won this underwater plateau in 2012 before the United Nations.

It's found off the coast of Aurora province, islands away from the disputed South China Sea.

It is believed to be rich in minerals and natural gas.

Exploration team leader Dr Cesar Villanoy compares their expedition to the one by Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese who discovered the Philippines in 1521.

DR CESAR VILLANOY, LEADER, BENHAM RISE PROGRAM: It felt a lot like what Magellan felt. It was exploring. Being able to touch Benham's bottom was very exciting for many of us, and being able to see what Benham Bank looked like at the bottom was very interesting for scientists as well.

Twenty-eight researchers and divers join the expedition.

The divers reach the shallowest part of Benham Rise, called Benham Bank.

The team uses a GoPro camera, a dive computer, and a set of weights.

It's 50 meters deep. Villanoy says scuba divers usually dive only 30 meters under the sea.

Divers stay 50 meters under the sea for only 5 minutes.

They do their dives every other day, collecting water samples in between.

Villanoy says the extensive garden of corals surprised their team.

He also says the water is so clear.

19-year-old diver Socorro Rodrigo is the youngest member of the team.

She says Benham Rise can play a crucial role in the country's future.

To do this, Rodrigo says the government needs political will.

SOCORRO RODRIGO, PHYSICS STUDENT: Benham Rise seems to have been given to us as a second chance. We've destroyed a lot of our natural resources, at least exploited them, not sustainably. This seems like a chance to do it right. There's a lot to be found in Benham Rise – fishes, mining resources, and I hope that we can use them sustainably.

Right now, the experts need the government's help to explore and study.

DR CESAR VILLANOY, LEADER, BENHAM RISE PROGRAM: Going out to these deep water areas is very expensive, and we need specialized equipment and specialized people to be able to study those areas. Maybe the government should also support marine research even more.

It will take years to discover Benham Rise's real potential.

For now, divers can only marvel at the beauty of this place that Filipinos can truly call their own.

Paterno Esmaquel, Rappler, Manila – Rappler.com