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Cousteau Calls for Protection of Benham Rise for Future Generation

Cousteau Calls for Protection of Benham Rise for Future Generation

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Oceana senior advisor Alexandra Cousteau urged the government to ensure that the marine resources documented by scientists during the expedition in May would be protected from commercial exploitation even before their uses are fully known.

Plates of foliose corals look like terraces in the bank. This is a common sight on the bank and characteristic of mesophotic reefs, found at depths from 30 meters (100 feet) to150 meters (492 feet).  (Photo from: OCEANA )

Plates of foliose corals look like terraces in the bank. This is a common sight on the bank and characteristic of mesophotic reefs, found at depths from 30 meters (100 feet) to150 meters (492 feet). (Photo from: OCEANA )

The granddaughter of ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau capped her two-week visit to the Philippines as the guest speaker at a media forum last Sept. 10, where scientists and government officials discussed preliminary findings from this year’s expedition to the shallowest part of Benham Rise.

“Today is the day we take enforcement seriously. We need to take science seriously,” said Cousteau, who was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for her work in oceans conservation.

Alexandra Cousteau, the granddaughter of legendary ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, capped her two-week visit to the Philippines as the guest speaker at a media forum last September 10, where scientists and government officials discussed preliminary findings from this year’s expedition to the shallowest part of Benham Rise. (Photo from: OCEANA/ Maan Mayo)

Alexandra Cousteau, the granddaughter of legendary ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, capped her two-week visit to the Philippines as the guest speaker at a media forum last September 10, where scientists and government officials discussed preliminary findings from this year’s expedition to the shallowest part of Benham Rise.
(Photo from: OCEANA/ Maan Mayo)

Dr. Hildie Maria Nacorda of the University of the Philippines in Los Baños-School of Environmental Science and Management thanked Cousteau for gracing the occasion, saying, “We feel that you symbolize breakthroughs in science and management for the new generation.”

Benham Bank is the shallowest portion of Benham Rise, which includes an outer section recognized by the United Nations’ Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf as the Philippines’ newest territory in 2012. The vast seamount lies off the eastern coast of Luzon.

Dr. Cesar Villanoy of the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute, who led the expedition, said their studies in the past two decades have shown that the seas in Benham Rise are controlled by currents coming from the south, resulting in warmer waters and less chlorophyll that are associated with marginal fisheries.

Old massive corals grow in the bank undisturbed. This slow‐growing coral may have a life span of up to 900 years.  (Photo from: OCEANA)

Old massive corals grow in the bank undisturbed. This slow‐growing coral may have a life span of up to 900 years. (Photo from: OCEANA)

However, they have also measured temperature fluctuations caused by mesoscale eddies, or large rotational systems that supply the ocean’s nutrients, in Benham Rise. “These eddies can potentially also help in supporting fisheries productivity,” Villanoy said.

In a video presentation, the expedition participants from UPLB reported that aside from the pristine reefscapes earlier documented, they found sandy seafloor habitats teeming with a variety of marine life. The number of reef fish species recorded this year had also tripled from their observations during the first exploratory cruise in 2014. Both trips were funded by the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

“We are happy to note that DOST and PCAARRD are investing and will continue to invest in the discovery of diverse life and of marine genetic resources in our new territory,” Nacorda said. She noted that a group of experts is interested in discovering the potential natural products from the arborescent sponges found in Benham Bank, which have not been studied before. Students are also beginning to study the relationship of life forms on the offshore mesophotic coral ecosystem with those found in shallow reefs, Nacorda added.

Dr. Mari-Ann Acedera from PCAARRD stressed the need for various sectors to come together, such as technical divers from the Coast Guard and Philippine Navy who assisted in collecting specimen from the deep sea reefs. “For a huge asset like the Benham Rise region, partnership and collaboration is indeed one modality in achieving the present goal of understanding our shared living resources,” she said.

Dr. Alma Dickson of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, which provided the research vessel M/V DA-BFAR used for the expedition, said Benham Bank can serve as a refuge and nursery for many economically important fish. “We must intensify our collaborative efforts and strengthen our partnership to assess the entire potential of the Benham Rise region. We must, as fellow protectors of the world’s oceans, explore and manage Benham Rise together,” she said.

Oceana provided a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and baited remote underwater video system (BRUVS) that took underwater images, as well as technical divers who took photographs and videos of marine life in the Benham Bank.

“We have good reason to be excited as we share with our people, including key decision makers, images of a very special pristine unique global heritage,” said Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Vice President for Oceana Philippines, during the premiere showing of a video about the 2016 Benham Rise expedition.

“The Philippines has not been spared the same kind of degradation that has happened all over the world. I’m excited for all of us to come together, and find ways to protect the ocean because it is a treasure,” Cousteau said.

(Story and photos courtesy of Oceana press release.)

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