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Exploring PH seas for tomorrow’s generations

/ 04:04 AM June 23, 2021

In March 2021, a leading Philippine oceanographer and an American explorer, together, reached the deepest point of the Philippine trench — a historic voyage to one of the least-explored places on Earth. By partnering on marine issues, whether on marine sustainability or maritime domain awareness, we protect and explore the world’s interconnected waters, including the Philippine seas.

This June, we celebrate not only World Oceans Month, but also the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Philippines. Since the launch of the Peace Corps and USAID in the Philippines 60 years ago, Americans and Filipinos have been working together to protect Philippine marine spaces and marine species. In the years to come, we must redouble our efforts to protect the richness of Philippine seas.

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When Dr. Deo Florence Onda and Victor Vescovo reached the Emden Deep, even there, they discovered ocean plastics. Plastic debris in our oceans is a global problem that costs the world as much as $2.5 trillion annually. Earlier this month, during a marine-focused “Oceans of Opportunities” conference, the US Center for Strategic and International Studies and the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea characterized the Philippines’ marine environmental situation as “stark.” They noted that the country and its neighbors are “literally choking on plastic debris,” 750,000 metrics tons of which leach into the sea from the Philippines every year.

However, in the face of this challenge, one expert claimed US-Philippine marine cooperation is one of the “most productive endeavors we have seen historically.” Together, we are improving waste management and developing innovations in packaging and recycling to keep debris out of the ocean, while raising community awareness to change handling of plastic waste. Our work to make Philippine waters plastic-free will revive coral reefs, strengthen fish populations, clean up the beaches, support tourism, and reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

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Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing costs the Philippines an estimated P63 billion a year and endangers the marine species that produce food and income for millions of Filipinos. We’ve partnered with the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and local government units throughout the Philippines to help stop these destructive practices. Through USAID Fish Right, we’re also working to ensure that safe, legal fishing practices are not only sustainable but profitable for Filipino fisherfolk.

Because waters are all connected, we are committed to increasing regional and multilateral cooperation on marine issues. Through regional projects like USAID Oceans, events like the Leaders’ Summit on Climate, and organizations like the Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative (YSEALI), we are bringing international partners together to take action to improve the management and sustainability of our shared resources.

Our leading youth exchange program YSEALI piloted a Marine Accelerator Program this year to train 62 emerging leaders of 33 marine conservation projects from across Southeast Asia. These projects will enable emerging conservation leaders to improve regional cooperation and address maritime and inland waterway issues, such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, river or marine ecosystem degradation, and marine debris.

While conservation efforts are critical, preserving marine species requires protecting marine spaces. This August marks the 70th anniversary of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), which underpins our security alliance. The security benefits of MDT enable cooperation to improve maritime domain awareness and deter nations from committing environmental crimes.

With much at stake — sovereignty, food security, and livelihoods — we must continue to do our utmost to protect the world’s waters.

John Law is chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in the Philippines.

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TAGS: Commentary, conservation, John Law, Philippine seas, World Oceans Month
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