QUEZON CITY – The National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines (NAST PHL) recently conducted the Science Policy Forum and Workshop on the Sustainable Development of the Philippine Blue Economy last 28 October 2019 at the Luxent Hotel, Quezon City.

The activity is a part of NAST PHL’s ongoing campaign for the development of the country’s blue economy, which includes various ocean-based industries such as fisheries and aquaculture, marine tourism, shipbuilding and ship repair, seaports and maritime trade, and ocean mining and energy harvesting among others.

In her opening remarks, Academician Rhodora V. Azanza, NAST PHL President, emphasized the importance of unleashing the potential of the blue economy to bring progress to the country. She mentioned the various activities and meetings that NAST PHL conducted in relation to the campaign. A key breakthrough in the campaign for the blue economy is the filing of Senate Resolution 1017 by Senator Sonny Angara, which calls for an inquiry in aid of legislation regarding the country’s blue economy mechanism. Academician Azanza expressed hope that endeavors such as this will result to initiatives and eventually, policies, that will bring more attention to the blue economy.

Academician Mudjekeewis D. Santos, NAST Member from the Agricultural Sciences Division, gave a brief summary of the two Science Policy and Information Fora on blue economy, which was also organized by NAST PHL earlier this year. Academician Santos, a scientist of the National Fisheries Research and Development Institute (NFRDI), stressed some of the recommendations that arose during these earlier Fora, which included the call for the creation of a separate Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Crucial role of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

MPAs are zones where extraction of marine resources by humans is fully or partially prohibited. It is considered as one of the sanctuaries that help conserve and protect the country’s marine and aquatic resources. In his presentation, Dr. Rene A. Abesamis, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow from the Silliman University – Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management (SUAKCREM), presented the importance of MPAs in the development of the blue economy.

Dr. Abesamis, an Outstanding Young Scientist awardee of NAST, emphasized the important role of MPAs in promoting the population recovery of overfished species and preserving the integrity of habitats and ecosystems. In the Philippines, majority of our existing MPAs are small and only 0.5% of municipal waters are protected. According to him, only 3 for every 10 MPAs are functional. Having more MPAs would mean more species protected and the habitat connectivity can enhance fish populations.

Dr. Abesamis ended his talk by emphasizing 3 challenges to harness MPA benefits for the blue economy: 1) propose effective and socially acceptable MPA networks, 2) manage fisheries outside of MPAs and 3) measure the effects of MPA networks on fisheries, biodiversity and economy across ecological settings.

State of Marine Spatial Planning and Oceanic Education

In relation to the MPA’s role in the blue economy, which can have positive effects to fisheries management and biodiversity conservation, the forum also tackled the issue on marine spatial planning and marine governance.

Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government (ASoG) Dean Dr. Ronald U. Mendoza discussed the marine spatial planning and marine governance, which have not been given much attention in the country. Dean Mendoza pointed out that good governance practices can have positive effects to the development of the blue economy and its impact on the lives of coastal communities. However, he lamented that out of the dozens of coastal provinces in the country, only Bataan and Batangas have conducted marine spatial planning in their respective coastal areas.

Dean Mendoza said that planning and effective governance practices are important to unleash the potential of the blue economy for the country.
On the side of coastal and oceanic education, University of the Philippines Diliman-Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) Director Dr. Laura T. David gave updates on the status of marine science education in the country. She mentioned that despite of the fact that the Philippines has one of the richest marine resources in the world, it lacks marine scientists and researchers. Dr. David, who is also an Outstanding Young Scientist awardee of NAST PHL, recommended enhancing marine science and technology degree programs and developing more scientists and researchers in these areas.

Potential of seaports, ocean mining

Important industries such as maritime trade entail the presence of efficient and well-managed seaports. Engr. Albert T. Tayabas, a representative from the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), reported on the status of Philippine seaports and mentioned some of its achievements. Engr. Tayabas said that they have recorded increased cargo throughput, container throughput, and passenger and cruise passenger traffic. Various new and repair projects were also launched by the agency, which are considered as part of the Duterte administration’s “Build Build Build” Infrastructure Program. Engr. Tayabas, also a licensed environmental planner, said that PPA has been gradually transforming its ports to become environment-friendly, thereby increasing benefits and reducing carbon footprint.

In the Philippines, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR-MGB) spearheads the development and regulation of mining, both on land and underwater, in the Philippines. Mr. Crisostomo V. Masangkay, a Senior Geologist from the DENR – MGB Marine Geological Survey Division, gave a briefing on the government efforts on offshore and seabed mining, which are emerging fields in the country.

Mr. Masangkay said that the MGB has been conducting a 5-year Geological Studies and Mineral Exploration Project in territorial waters in the Celebes Sea and the Philippine Rise. He said that they have been doing geophysical surveys, geological samplings, and explorations despite the lack of updated and advanced survey equipment.

“We also lack geoscientists to conduct surveys and interpret data, survey platforms, and the technologies crucial to potentially benefit from these resources under seabeds,” Masangkay explained.

Breakout sessions

After the plenary sessions, NAST PHL also conducted three separate breakout sessions on 1) fisheries and marine biodiversity; 2) marine spatial planning and marine governance; and 3) seaports, ocean mining, and emerging industries, which were facilitated by Academician Santos, Academician Marie Antonette Juinio-Meñez, and Dr. David, respectively. Each participant attended one of the breakout sessions and gave their takeaways and recommendations on the specific topic included.

Among the major recommendations that came out of the breakout sessions revolved on the creation of a separate Department that would take care of the country’s needs to develop sustainably in a coordinated effort its coastal marine resources which include living and non-living goods and services. Recommendations also included incentivization of marine research and development initiatives, provision of more degree programs in marine science, strengthening of educational and promotion campaigns on marine science and fisheries, and enhanced efforts to retain talented scientists and researchers.

Ways to move forward

Dr. Aletta Concepcion T. Yñiguez, an Assistant Professor from the UP MSI, gave the synthesis of the event and included the recommendations to ramp up infrastructure and manpower support for marine science and related fields relevant to the blue economy and translate science information into effective policies.

To conclude the activity, Academician Azanza thanked the participants and assured them that NAST PHL’s resolve to push for the development of our blue economy will remain stronger. She said that the NAST PHL and the rest of the academic community and stakeholders need to exert more effort to build a progressive country with the help of a sustainable blue economy.

###The National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines (NAST PHL) is an attached agency to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) mandated by law to serve the country’s premier advisory and recognition body on matters related to science and technology.