The Philippine Rise: An untouched treasure

Map of the Luzon and Philippine Rise (Benham Rise) region. (Philippines' NAMRIA via Wikipedia)
Updated 21 May 2018
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The Philippine Rise: An untouched treasure

  • The Benham Bank exhibits a rich marine biodiversity. Its reefscapes contain corals, algae, sponges and Halimeda, which sustain a variety of fish. 
  • The UN approved the Philippines’ claim to the area in April 2012. On May 16, 2017, Duterte signed an order renaming it the Philippine Rise.

MANILA: A team of Filipino scientists last week sailed to the Philippine Rise, situated on the eastern side of the country, to explore unknown treasures in the resource-rich undersea region.

A ceremony was held on May 15 aboard the Philippine Navy’s amphibious landing dock vessel BRP Davao Del Sur. 

President Rodrigo Duterte led the send-off of the team, which will undertake the Coordinated National Marine Scientific Research Initiatives and Related Activities (CONMIRA).

Duterte was supposed to visit the Philippine Rise and ride a jet ski around the area, but instead he led a program aboard the BRP Davao Del Sur while it was docked in Casiguran Bay in Aurora province. 

The activity was to commemorate the awarding of the Benham Rise to the Philippines by a UN tribunal. 

The UN approved the Philippines’ claim to the area in April 2012. On May 16, 2017, Duterte signed an order renaming it the Philippine Rise.

He also signed a proclamation formally declaring parts of the undersea feature a marine resource reserve.

After Duterte left, a flotilla with the BRP Davao Del Sur sailed to the Philippine Rise. The flotilla included eight other ships.

A flag-raising ceremony was held on May 16 aboard the BRP Davao Del Sur, simultaneous with the laying of an underwater flag marker at the Benham Bank, the shallowest point in the Philippine Rise.

Gil Jacinto of the Marine Science Institute at the University of the Philippines told Arab News that the two-day event raises awareness among government agencies and the Filipino people “about this part of the country that we have sovereign rights over,” and “the needed work by the scientific community.” 

He lauded Duterte’s commitment to support marine science research, adding that the Benham Bank contains a “very good coral cover” and “almost wall-to-wall carpeted corals.”

Jacinto said: “Studies related to tuna fisheries, biology and migration patterns can also be pursued.” 

Oceanographers want to understand physical processes, such as major currents and the movement of water from the Pacific to the eastern side of Luzon island all the way to Mindanao island.

“Our understanding of physical processes and features of the Pacific side can perhaps be useful in some of the models that project the trajectory and intensity of typhoons,” said Jacinto. 

“That’s of interest and perhaps of benefit not just to the Philippines but also in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea region.”

Scientists will also be looking at prospects for energy sources in the area, and the possibility of obtaining compounds on marine organisms that may benefit the medical and pharmaceutical fields.

“One thing I’m very glad about for this event is this part of the country is now in the mindsets of our people,” said Jacinto. “There’s so much that can be done here.”

The scientists opted to sail to the Philippine Rise instead of the West Philippine Sea because they can work in the area “relatively unimpeded,” whereas in the West Philippine Sea there are security issues due to maritime border disputes, he added. 

The Philippine Rise is a 13-million-hectare underwater plateau located some 250 km east of northern Luzon. 

Its original name came from American geologist Andrew Benham, who surveyed the area in the 1930s. 

The Benham Bank exhibits a rich marine biodiversity. Its reefscapes contain corals, algae, sponges and Halimeda, which sustain a variety of fish. 

Results of exploratory fishing suggest that the Philippine Rise yields the highest catch rate of tuna species compared with other areas of the country.

The Philippine Rise may also contain seabed resources such as cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts, and hydrothermal polymetallic sulphides that contain minerals used in the aerospace industry.

Experts have revealed vast deposits of methane hydrate in the area, believed to be a larger hydrocarbon resource than the world’s oil, gas and coal resources combined.


‘New beginning’: Khan brings hope of stronger ties with India

Updated 18 August 2018
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‘New beginning’: Khan brings hope of stronger ties with India

  • Cautious optimism in India as Imran Khan becomes PM in Pakistan
  • Indian experts say stable government in Pakistan will determine the course of India-Pakistan relations

NEW DELHI: Indian foreign policy experts have expressed cautious optimism about an improvement in the country’s relationship with Pakistan following Imran Khan’s rise to power.

Former India ambassador to Pakistan TCA Raghavan said that if Pakistan’s new prime minister was able to provide stable government internally and address the nation’s numerous domestic issues, it “will create the basis for better relations with India.”

Raghavan, author of “The People Next Door: The Curious History of India-Pakistan Relations,” said: “It’s difficult to make predictions about India-Pakistan relations at any time. But in my view the internal situation in Pakistan has a great role to play in determining the course of the relationship.”

Sudheendra Kulkarni, a peace activist and adviser to the former prime minister Atal Behari Vajppayee, described Khan’s leadership as a “new beginning for Pakistan and the Indian subcontinent.”

“The past four years have been a wasted opportunity in taking the India-Pakistan relationship forward,” he said. “Nawaz Sharif was a leader with a thorough commitment to a better relationship with New Delhi, but the Narendra Modi regime could not sustain the initial hopes when it invited the leader of the Islamic republic to a swearing in ceremony in 2014.”

However, Kulkarni cautioned that “we should not expect marked improvement in relations in the next eight to nine months as India is going to have elections early next year.”

Professor Happymon Jacob, of the Center for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said: “I am positive about Imran Khan. If the Pakistan army and the political establishment are on board, and there is no difference between the two elites, then it becomes easier for India to navigate.

“Under Nawaz Sharif, both the elites were not on the same page regarding India. The present regime in Delhi will not reach out to Pakistan when elections in India are around the corner. If anything wrong goes so far as peace process is concerned, then it will have electoral ramifications. Any revival of peace talks will happen only after the elections.”

India’s leadership reached out to Khan after his election victory with the Ministry of External Affairs saying: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi expresses hope that democracy will take deeper roots in Pakistan and reiterates his vision of peace and development in the entire neighborhood.”

In his victory speech, Khan also said that “Pakistan is ready to improve its ties with India.”

He said that his government hoped the leaders of the two nations can resolve all disputes, including the core issue of Kashmir, through talks.

“If they take one step toward us, we will take two,” he said.

Meanwhile, India cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, a guest at Khan’s swearing in on Saturday, has called for peace on the subcontinent.

“It’s in the interest of both countries that peace prevails. I have come to Pakistan despite all the criticism back home with a message of peace and friendship. We have the same culture, the same way of thinking and, therefore, it is important that we should have a strong bond.”