Legarda urges various gov’t agencies to deal with rampant illegal poaching in high seas

Published June 4, 2018, 6:11 PM

by Francine Ciasico

By Mario Casayuran

Senator  Loren Legarda, chairwoman of the Senate climate change committee, today urged various government agencies to deal with rampant illegal poaching in the high seas, especially within the Moro Gulf and the Sulu Sea.

Sen. Loren Legarda (Senate of the Philippines official Facebook page / MANILA BULLETIN)
Sen. Loren Legarda (Senate of the Philippines official Facebook page / MANILA BULLETIN)

‘’Illegal poaching has for many years caused severe damage to the seabed and the coral reefs, pollutes the sea and kills hundreds of marine species, thus affecting the balance of marine biodiversity,’’ she said.

In a speech before the 4th Asia Pacific Coral Reef Symposium held at the Marco Polo Plaza in Cebu, Legarda said the Philippines, being an archipelago located within the coral triangle, is blessed with a very rich biodiversity and has one of the world’s marine ecosystems, characterized by extensive coral reefs, sea grass beds and dense mangroves.

The Philippines, Legarda stressed, ranks 9th among the major fish-producing countries in the world in 2015.

It is therefore the Philippines’ responsibility to protect the oceans and reefs even greater to mitigate the effects of marine ecosystem degeneration and coral reef bleaching and destruction, she said.

‘’We rely strongly on our law enforcement agents from the Department of Agriculture, the Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine National Police, the LGUs and other law enforcement agencies’’ from protecting the country’s rich marine resources. she added.

A measure aimed at strengthening climate adaptation mechanisms and conserving biodiversity, the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act or ENIPAS, is now pending the approval of the President, for it to finally become a law, she pointed out.

Despite the enactment of the National Integrat4eed Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act in 1992, the protection of many protected areas existed only in paper. Many important ecosystems remained underprotected, including open seas, coastal areas, wetlands and tropical forests.

The proposed ENIPAS Law will secure the remaining protected areas in the country by strengthening access to funding for protection programs as well as the prosecution of prohibited acts. Among the protected areas that will benefit from this law are the coral reef sanctuaries, such as the Tubattaha Reef.

Legarda also cited the country’s commitment with the international community to protect marine ecosystems,

She said the Philippines recently acceded to several international agreements, such as the Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas; the Port State Measures Agreement, which is the first binding international agreement to specifically target illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing; the International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-Fouling Systems on Ships; and the MARPOL Protocol, which prevents and minimizes pollution from ships by setting limits on sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from ship exhausts, which are harmful to human health, and prohibits deliberate emissions of ozone depleting substances.

‘’With recent reports on the worsening marine litter, I intend to file important measures to promote a circular economy, in which resources are used for as long as possible and the use of nonrenewable resources is minimized, as well as to ban the use of microplastics,’’ she said.

Microplastics are small plastic pieces that can easily pass through water filtration systems and end up in the ocean, posing threat to the aquatic life and human health. The most used type of microplastics are microbeads that are usually found in cosmetic and hygiene products, such as cleansers, toothpaste and shampoo.

The United States has already passed a Microbead-Free Waters Act; Canada has banned products with plastic microbeads in their market; and, the United Kingdom has officially banned the use of plastic microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products.

“It is now time for the Philippines to implement the same law. Banning microplastics and single-use plastics will help reduce wastage and may lead us to veer from a throwaway culture, because the waste that we produce, unless minimized and managed properly, will find its way into our oceans and will affect both marine and human life,’’ she stressed.

‘’But laws alone are not enough; it is most important that these laws are implemented efficiently and effectively. Thus, I am calling on local government units to exercise its crucial role in the strict implementation and enforcement of existing relevant laws concerning conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity,’’ she added.

‘’In closing, I wish to emphasize that marine life is vital to support human life. Our lives are linked closely to the ocean and the rich marine resources that it yields. We must act now and work together to find the much-needed balance in using the resources of our oceans and protecting its biodiversity to ensure that it benefits us in a sustainable manner,’’ she said.

‘’This marine ecosystem, the corals that sustain the lives of the marine species, when destroyed today will not just grow overnight. Destroying coral reefs is stealing the homes of marine life organisms and it is just like compromising the resource needs of our future generation,’’ she added.