May 26, 2022
The special Month of the Ocean episode featured Pinoy Climate Reality Leaders* who are spearheading initiatives on marine resource management, environmental stewardship, and ocean sustainability in response to the worsening impacts of the climate crisis.
Frances Camille Rivera, Co-founder and Director of Oceanus Conservation, noted that the ocean absorbs about 26 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere, making it a powerful agent for climate change mitigation.
“Currently, carbon dioxide concentration in our atmosphere is around 417 parts per million. If the ocean is not doing its job as a carbon sink, the concentration in our atmosphere will shoot up to 600 [parts per million]. Imagine how worse the impacts could get,” Harvey Perello, Project Manager of non-profit organization Save Philippine Sea, noted during the webcast. “The ocean has that power. We just need to support it and protect it,” he added.
Increasing ocean literacy through environmental education and campaigns
Acknowledging the need to inform Filipinos about their crucial role as ocean stewards, Perello said that marine conservation literacy is at the heart of Save Philippine Sea’s climate change communication efforts.
Perello shared about Earthducation, a program that provides teaching kits to formal (academe) and informal educators (development sector) on ocean pollution, among many other topics on the environment and climate change.
Rivera agreed with Perello and mentioned that the existing local education system lacks focus on teaching the importance of marine life to humankind. She shared that this prompted her to develop storybooks and organize storytelling events aiming to raise marine conservation awareness among students.
Fel Cesar Cadiz, Director for Learning and Behavior Adoption of RARE Philippines, highlighted the need for public participation that shall emanate from the coastal and fishing communities that are “often overlooked and under-resourced.”
As local waters become more vulnerable to overfishing and destructive practices, Cadiz shared four (4) core fishing behaviors to address overfishing in the Philippines: (1) to register fishers; (2) to record fish catch; (3) to respect fisheries regulation; and (4) to participate in fishery management.
Laws and policies on marine conservation
Cadiz said that the Philippines has good laws in place that touch on marine conservation and protection. This includes the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, which protects biodiversity-rich areas in the country; Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, which helps manage threats to biodiversity, specifically waste; and the Local Government Code, which provides local government units the independence to manage their resources, especially the water and the terrestrial.
However, while there is a need for more laws targeted at specific marine conservation issues to complement existing laws, Perello noted that the biggest gap at the moment is the implementation of existing laws.
“That’s (implementation) where we always lack. For example, the [Ecological] Solid Waste Management Act. It has been there for quite some time. Yet, we still struggle to segregate. We still struggle to recycle,” Perello noted, saying that the government must take a more systemic approach to see what laws must be changed and what must be fully implemented and to find solutions on how to make the laws more effective.
Rivera also agreed, saying that existing marine-related laws and policies lack enforcement. In her example, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), despite their mandate, failed to regularly update the list of underutilized productive fishponds that could be reverted to mangrove forests.
On whether marine resource management is currently integrated into the government’s climate change action plan, Cadiz explained that the case is different for different local government units. He noted that while there are local governments that understand the need for a holistic approach to development, there are those that do not have the capacity to streamline their Comprehensive Land Use Plans and Local Climate Change Action Plans (LCCAPs).
Cadiz also noted that the Climate Change Act of 2009 mandates local government units to develop LCCAPs.
“Unfortunately, the process itself is costly. Not all local government units, especially fourth-class and fifth-class municipalities, are able to gather all information to feed into the LCCAP formulation,” he explained. “It’s expensive. It takes a lot of process. But they have to start somewhere. They don’t have to finish the plan immediately, maybe invest on researches, and eventually they can come up with the plan,” he added.
What the incoming administration should prioritize in terms of marine protection
Asked about the policies and programs that the upcoming administration should prioritize, Rivera explained that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
“It’s a lot of collaborations. Everything is multi-sectoral. The next administration has to listen to all ears, listen to all aspects of creating projects, in making sure that they are balanced with the environment, balanced with people,” Rivera said.
Cadiz, meanwhile, noted that there is no need for the next administration to start from scratch. “There are actually excellent programs from the government. Continue those, learn from the mistakes, and enhance,” he said.
Cadiz also shared that RARE, along with other organizations, will continue to push for the establishment of the Department of Fisheries.
“In Southeast Asia, we are the only country that does not have a full department for fisheries, not just a bureau. We know that when it’s just a bureau within a bigger department, there is lack of resources and manpower. Since we rely a lot on our seas, it is high time that we give focus to creating a Department of Fisheries” he said.
For Perello, the next administration must look at how the country could transition into a greener economy. “The solutions are there. They are already available. The science is established. At the same time, from the economic and social standpoints, the question is how can we make sure that the people are not left behind as the country progresses,” he noted.