Ocean conservation effort warrants new gov’t department, experts say

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A NEW GOVERNMENT department is needed to manage and conserve ocean resources, which is too big a job for the agriculture-focused agencies currently tasked with protecting the country’s seas, experts said.

“UPMSI (UP Marine Science Institute) was pushing for the Department Oceans and Fisheries kasi (because) … the seas are the biggest ecosystem. We think that the seas need their own department… hindi lang s’ya (it should not just be) part ng (of) agriculture. The ocean itself should be taken care of as a unit, so probably by putting more resources then we can augment ’yung kakulangan (the gap),” Deo Florence L. Onda, deputy director for research of UPMSI, said at a briefing in Quezon City on Wednesday.

Currently, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) is responsible for the development, improvement, management, and conservation of fisheries and aquatic resources.

Mr. Onda added that the creation of the department may help boost the contribution of the ocean economy to gross domestic product (GDP), which is at 7%; improve the lives of fishermen; and maximize the Philippines’ position as a center of marine biodiversity.

Gloria Estenzo Ramos, vice-president of Oceana Philippines, also concurred about the need for the new department.

“Our waters are seven times larger than our land area but why can’t we give it priority? So a department of fisheries is much needed. Other countries are doing it, why can’t we?,” she said.

“BFAR is just focused on fisheries and it’s just a bureau under the Department of Agriculture so we can see that its head doesn’t sit in the Cabinet, doesn’t have the ear on the President,” she added.

The lack of coordination among agencies involved will also be solved once the mandate for ocean management is unified in one department.

“One of the challenges is really collaboration between the involved agencies. If there’s just one department, it’s within that department whatever is needed to do,” she said. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang