After advocacy by Oceana and its allies, the Philippines government has created a new marine protected area in Benham Bank, declaring 50,000 hectares as a strict protection zone and an additional 300,000 hectares as a Fisheries Management Area. This declaration will help protect marine life, including mesophotic (deep-sea) coral reefs, whales, dolphins, sharks, rays and sea turtles. The area is also a spawning area for Pacific bluefin tuna, one of the most expensive fish on Earth.
Oceana Senior Advisor Alexandra Cousteau, who visited the region in 2016, called Benham Bank a “treasure” and urged the government to protect the unique, biodiverse area.
Benham Bank is the shallowest part of the Philippine Rise, an undersea region east of Luzon. Expeditions in 2014 and 2016 revealed that Benham Bank is home to vast mesophotic reefs. Experts believe that these sorts of deep-sea reefs could be important for ocean resilience in the face of a changing climate, as the cooler, deeper waters may offer a refuge for species affected by rising ocean temperatures.
Oceana’s 2016 expedition, which used remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), baited remote underwater video systems (BRUVS) and technical divers to document the area, also recorded large predators like tiger sharks and more than 200 species of fish. You can see photos and video from Oceana’s expedition at our Flickr page.
The new marine protected area in the Philippine Rise will help protect all these species and restore the Philippines oceans to abundance. The newly-designated Fisheries Management Area will ban active fishing gear while scientific research will be the only activity permitted in the strict protection zone. These protections will help restore healthy oceans that can provide Filipinos with food and jobs while driving tourism for decades to come.