Non-governmental organizations and environmental groups in the Philippines, with the support of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and other agencies, have set voluntary commitments to protect ocean ecosystems in line with the United Nations’ call for concrete action to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14: Life Below Water.
The commitments were presented at the Philippine Ocean Conference held in Cebu City on May 16 and 17. The conference was hosted by the DENR, through the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB), and the Department of Agriculture (DA) through the Bureau of Fisheries and Agricultural Research (BFAR) with support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
The measures will now be presented during the Ocean Conference to be held in New York on June 5 to 9.
The coastal waters of the Philippines alone boast the highest marine biodiversity in the world—a total of 464 reef-building coral species or nearly half of all known coral species in the world, and an estimated 10,000 aquatic species or approximately one fifth of all known species globally. In 2012, the Philippines ranked 7th in the top fish producing countries in the world.
“The sheer expanse and richness of the Philippines’ marine biodiversity naturally sustains the life of millions of Filipino people—the health and productivity of the coastal and marine environments are crucial for their livelihoods and food security. Despite immense efforts that the government and its partners have done in the past, the threats that contribute to the degradation of our oceans continue to increase. It is a call for all of us to learn from our past efforts and do more,” said DENR Biodiversity Management Bureau Director Theresa Mundita Lim at the conference.
Over exploitation, unsustainable practices, over-fishing, poor fisheries management practices, and natural disasters exacerbated by climate change are contributing significantly to an alarming rate of marine biodiversity loss.
“The government acknowledges that the conservation of Life Below Water is a shared responsibility. That is why it is actively working with other stakeholders including the scientific community and the academe in fulfilling its mandate to protect the ocean,” DA Undersecretary for Fisheries and BFAR National Director Eduardo Gongona said.
The Philippine Ocean Conference generated voluntary commitments from relevant national, regional and local agencies as well as the private sector, multilateral and bilateral agencies, and the academe.
“SDG 14 targets are ambitious. They need a huge push or they may well be missed. Many of the targets have a deadline of 2020—only 3 years away—and we have no time to lose. Globally and nationally we are not in a good place. We lack data and a good understanding on the impact we are having on the oceans and how much we depend on them for our own survival,” UNDP Philippine Country Director Titon Mitra said.
“The Ocean Conference has to be a game changer – it has to come up with an action agenda to halt the serious and alarming decline in the state of our oceans. The voluntary commitments we develop at this national consultation should be underpinned by concrete targets and strategic actions.”
Posted to the UNDP’s Ocean Action Hub website, the country’s commitments primarily involve protection of the “coral triangle”—of which the Philippines forms one apex—better management of fisheries to promote sustainability, and upgrading enforcement of laws to prevent exploitative practices.