Filipino marine scientists find more 'piles' of plastic trash in West Philippine Sea

Published June 18, 2021, 7:22 PM

by Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz


A group of Filipino marine scientists has discovered more piles of plastic wastes in the West Philippine Sea during their latest expedition in May.

A team of scientists from the Marine Science Institute of the University of the Philippines (UP-MSI) that led the Predicting Responses Between Ocean Tranport and Ecological Connectivity in Threatened Ecosystems in WPS 2″ or PROTECT WPS 2 expedition on May 7-19 found piles of PET bottles in Pagasa, Patag, and Lawak, floating packaging materials in Sabina and Ayungin, and discarded fishing gear or ghost nets in the different coral reefs.

“During the PROTECT WPS 1 in 2019, the two-week expedition to the KIG led the UP MSI team to discover a plethora of plastics in its waters. This resulted in a more focused and in- depth look into the plastics problem by including a research component on microplastics and their associated organisms,” the scientists reported.

“The 2021 expeditions yielded similar observations–the high prevalence of plastic litter in the different ecosystems and islands in WPS (West Philippine Sea),” they said, noting that “these are strong indications of the connectivity of the marine environment, warranting further actions for the reduction and mitigation of plastic pollution.”

In a virtual forum last June 10, PROTECT WPS 2 lead scientist Deo Florence Onda said it surprised him to see “lots and lots of plastics” that seem to have just drifted towards the Kalayaan Group of Islands.

“Hindi lang siya basta may plastic, pero piles and piles of plastics (It isn’t just a few plastics but piles and piles of plastics). Nakakalungkot (It’s saddening) because when you look back into the brands, they actually come from countries from all over Southeast Asia–Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines,” Onda said during the “Walang Plastikan: Youth Dialogue on Plastics in our Oceans” forum organized by Oceana Philippines.

“Ibig sabihin yung mga plastics na nakawala mula sa ilog, pampang sa iba’t ibang bansa sa (That means that the plastics that have come from rivers and shores from different countries in) Southeast Asia actually drifted with the current and at some point in time they were drifted towards the islands of the Kalayaan Island Group and the Spratlys,” he added.

Moreover, Onda observed that the seagull sanctuary in Lawak Island in Kalayaan Island Group was “already inundated by marine plastics” and that some of the birds have already died.

“This (plastic waste) is a direct threat to the biodiversity in the area,” he added.

The PROTECT WPS is funded by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Biodiversity Management Bureau.

UP-MSI concludes WPS summer expeditions

Aside from the PROTECT WPS 2, UP-MSI has also concluded the “Upgrading Capacity, Infrastructure, and Assets for Marine Scientific Research in the Philippines” or Upgrade CIA conducted last April 23-May 5, 2021. It is funded by the National Security Council.

The Upgrade CIA focused mainly on the offshore features or Kalayaan Island Group, which includes Pagasa, Lawak, and Patag Islands, as well as Quirino and Iroquois Atolls.

The PROTECT WPS complemented these by looking at the connectivity of offshore, Sabina and Ayungin Shoals, with the onshore or coastal ecosystems in Quezon, Balabac, Bataraza, and Brooke’s Point in the Sulu Sea.

The expedition teams, led by chief scientists Dr. Charissa Ferrera for Upgrade CIA and Dr. Deo Florence Onda for PROTECT WPS 2, set sail on UP-MSI’s research vessel “Panata.”

Upgrade CIA’s overall lead is UP MSI Director Dr. Laura T. David.

The UP-MSI experts were also joined by researchers from the Western Philippines University in Palawan and UP Visayas during the WPS summer expeditions.

Exploration and protection of WPS

The team of researchers noted that the continuous expansion of artificial islands, illegal fishing by large fishing vessels, and the worsening environmental conditions due to climate change and plastics pollution are among the major causes of marine ecosystem disruption in the West Philippine Sea.

With the conduct of Upgrade CIA, PROTECT WPS, and their expeditions, these “greatly contribute to efforts on drafting policy recommendations for the sustainable use of resources and restoration of the marine ecosystems in the West Philippine Sea, as well as the establishment of marine protected areas, especially in the Kalayaan Island Group.”

“Without these initiatives and support to further studies in the area, the state of the WPS and its resources will continue to decline and deplete,” they added.