Know your marine assets and potentials



First of 2 parts

WHAT are the chances the third world war will start in the northeast Asia-Pacific region in this decade? This is the question my international relations and journalism students at the Lyceum of the Philippines University very seriously asked me last weekend.

The query is triggered by the increasing geopolitical and military tensions in the Asia-Pacific region over the past five weeks caused by North Korea’s nuclear and ICBM test-firings over Japan, near encounters between Chinese and US naval ships and aircraft, escalating preparations in case of war in Japan, South Korea, and China, and the UN Security Council’s more calls for sanctions against Pyongyang.

My reply was most likely no. But looking back in history, and the developments that led to the first and second world wars, one cannot really be sure; its takes only one military miscalculation or judgment, or a megalomaniac or crazy war freak national leader to ignite the shootout. With the nuclear armaments and modern communications technologies today, nobody can truly predict or answer the question accurately.

Although I am more optimistic the superpowers—the US, Russia, China—and France, Germany, the other Europeans, Japan and South Korea and the Asean members do not want any shooting conflict in the world today, geopolitical observers and leaders believe North Korea’s Kim Jung-un is unpredictable and emotionally unstable. All one has to do is review his verified statements, documented actions and dictatorial grip over his entire domain to make the conclusion.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who obviously believes in the destiny theory and fatalism has said we (the Philippines) cannot do anything to stop the North Koreans to ignite the war (if they do) and our allies cannot be relied upon to help us. So be it! (He actually did his part to promote peace by inviting the North Korean, the Chinese and the American top diplomats to the Asean security summit here last month for their diplomatic talks.)

Which only means everyone has to look out for his own national interest and prepare for the worst while simultaneously working—in cooperation with the rest of the region, allies and the UN—to prevent the probability of a war.

Unfortunately, news media caters to the prime instinct of man—survival. This means all the bad news especially those that include violence, terrorism, crimes, deaths, manmade or natural disasters and impending doom out-space the good news in the front pages of newspapers or most airtime of international audio-visual news media.

Preparations for the worst actually requires that the developing nations like the Philippines and the rest of the 10-nation Asean must know their natural assets on land and sea, get the most available information on how to exploit and develop these and unite their people to work on food and water security.

These will undoubtedly be the top needs—including medical personnel and medicine—of everyone in case of a world war. And these are abundant in our region, which geographically is only three percent of the globe’s surface but with biodiversity more than 20 percent of the world’s, and still counting.

The coral reefs and foreshores of the Asean nations, particularly the Philippines’ and Indonesia’s are part of what the Asean Center for Biodiversity calls the Coral Triangle of the world. Its apex is the Philippines while its base extends from Indonesia in the west to Papua New Guinea in the east.

The sea food, including seaweeds, in this tropical triangle is a great source of nutrition and raw materials for manufacturing medicine.A research paper from the University of California in Santa Barbara, Calif., last month revealed the marine areas of the Earth “are vast and deep….that nearly every coastal country has the potential to meet its own domestic seafood needs through aquaculture. In fact, each country could do so using a tiny fraction of its ocean territory.”

“There is a lot of space that is suitable for aquaculture and that is not what’s going to limit its development,” the paper said, quoting the research study’s lead author Rebecca Gentry. The study reportedly shows the oceans have a number of “hot spots”—enough to produce 15 billion metric tons of finfish annually. That is more than 100 times the current global seafood consumption.

“More realistically…if aquaculture were developed in only the most productive areas, the oceans could theoretically produce the same amount of seafood that the world’s wild-caught fisheries currently produce globally, but in less than one percent of the total ocean surface…aquaculture could actually be spread a lot more across the world, and every coastal country has this opportunity.”

Co-author Ben Halpern of the University of California affiliate National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) was quoted: “It’s not a question of if aquaculture will be part of future food production but, instead where and when….” The paper said, “the researchers identified areas where ocean conditions ae suitable enough to support farms. They used synthesized data on oceanographic parameters like ocean depth and temperature and the biological needs of 180 species of finfish and bivalve mollusks such as oysters and mussels.”

Furthermore, the paper said the research “….ruled out places that would come into conflict with other human uses, such as high shipping zones and marine protected areas and excluded ocean depths that exceed 200 meters….their analysis did not consider all possible political or social constraints that may limit production…”

Co-author Halley Froeehlich, a post-doctoral research candidate in the NCEAS said “ aquaculture is expected to increase by 39 percent in the next decade….Not only is this growth rate fast, but the amount of biomass aquaculture has already surpassed wild seafood catches and beef production.”

He added: “It will be crucial for science, conservation, policy and industry to work together to proactively ensure fish farms are not just well placed but also well managed, such as balancing nutrient inputs and outputs to avoid pollution and monitoring for diseases…

“Like any food system, aquaculture can be done poorly; we’ve seen it…(referring to the shrimp industry of the 1990s)…. This is really an opportunity to shape the future of food for the betterment of people and the environment.”

Aquaculture in the oceans has been with us for decades but hardly noticed because the world’s population growth and its socio-political-security impact was not of a serious concern until Gunnar Myrdal wrote his book series The Asian Drama in the late 1950s. We learned of the Scandinavian North Sea salmon sea farms more than 35 years ago when we realized the salmons we enjoyed in Asia were raised in fishnets in the Scandinavian marine areas.

In Asean, we’ve had the 40-hectare Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) in Tigbauan, Iloilo for decades; and the University of the Philippines’ marine study center in Miag-ao, Iloilo too. The Philippines has been a major contributor to the development of biodiversity in Asean, with head offices in UP Los Baños known as the Asean Center for Biodiversity. (My uncle Augusto Manalo showed me the facilities of the UP fisheries research center in Estancia, Iloilo, in 1942 before my 10th birthday.) (To be continued next week)


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