By virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 37 issued by President Joseph Ejercito Estrada in 1999, the month of May was declared as the Month of the Ocean (MOO). Perhaps preoccupied by the pressing demands of containing a still-raging pandemic, the government’s current observance of May as the Month of the Ocean is understandably muted and low-key.
This year’s observance of Month of the Ocean is doubly significant. It marks the start of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development from 2021 to 2030. The Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) headlines its alignment by adopting the theme of the UN’s decade-long observance, The Science We Need for the Ocean We Want. Key challenges have been identified for each year of the decade.
For 2021, the theme is: “Understand and beat marine pollution.”
Two local environmental groups, namely the EcoWaste Coalition and Oceana Philippines, have weighed in by announcing the key findings from a report on Aquatic Pollutants in Oceans and Fisheries prepared by the International Pollutants Elimination (IPEN) network along with the National Toxics Network (NTN) of Australia.
The report points out that chemical pollution – more than over-fishing – is the bigger culprit since it “compromises reproduction, development, and immune systems among aquatic and marine organisms.” Hence, these advocates are pitching for “global and local action that will prevent and control chemical and waste pollution from all sources, which is making the ocean ecosystems sick and incapable of meeting the huge demand for fish.”
The report said that “overfishing is not the sole cause of fishery declines,” and that pollutants including industrial chemicals, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, plastics and microplastics “have deleterious impacts to aquatic ecosystems at all trophic levels from plankton to whales.”
The report authors warned that the impacts scientists have identified are likely to grow in the coming years and will be exacerbated by a changing climate, noting that “the global seafood industry, and the livelihood and survival of millions of artisanal fishers and communities who depend on seafood, are at a crossroads.”
Last March 23, Dr. Deo Florence Onda, a microbial oceanographer who is associate professor and deputy director for Research of the Marine Science Institute (MSI) in the University of the Philippines Diliman, became the first Filipino and one of the first two human beings to make the first manned descent into Emden Deep. Located in the Philippine trench, Emdem Deep is approximately 34,100 feet or 10,400 meters. The explorers made touchdown at 10,045 meters deep.
Dr. Onda validated the IPEN’s findings. He said that while the submersible that carried him and his fellow explorer, American undersea explorer, Victor Vescovo, were making their descent, he saw some floating plastic bottles and other debris.
Let this Month of the Ocean observance signal a timely call for action lest the country descend to the depths of fishery and aquatic life decline.