UP-MSI scientists pose at the Puerto Princesa harbor next to the M/V Panata, their research vessel. // Photo courtesy of UP Marine Science Institute

Local scientists from the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) have concluded two research projects in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

According to the institute’s presser published Friday, they hope that their findings can aid in the protection of the area and its resources, which were found to be crucial in the country’s food security.

Aside from data collection on the WPS’ biodiversity and physical features, the researchers brought to attention some troubling findings such as plastic pollution and the destruction of natural islands and coral reefs due to reclamation activities.

“The continuous expansion of artificial islands, illegal fishing by large fishing vessels, and the worsening environmental conditions due to climate change and plastics pollution are among the major causes of marine ecosystem disruption in the WPS,” the presser stated.

Despite a ruling by an international court in 2016 declaring key areas of the WPS as part of Philippine territory, foreign vessels have kept frequenting the area to conduct various activities such as building reclamation areas and illegal fishing. Reports of harrassment on local fishermen, mostly from the Kalayaan municipality and other Palawan towns, have also been attributed to the vessels, which are mostly from China.

The projects, Upgrading Capacity, Infrastructure, and Assets For Marine Scientific Research in the Philippines (Upgrade CIA) and Predicting Responses Between Ocean Transport and Ecological Connectivity in Threatened Ecosystems in WPS 2 (PROTECT WPS 2), were conducted aboard the M/V Panata research vessel. Chief scientists Dr. Charissa Ferrera headed Upgrade CIA from April 23 to May 5, while Dr. Deo Florence Onda headed PROTECT WPS 2 from May 7-19.

Onda who is a native of Brooke’s Point, Palawan is also known for being the first Filipino to explore Emden Deep, the third-deepest spot on the planet. Along with American explorer Victor Vescovo, he is one of the first humans as well to reach the depths of the trench in a deep submersible support vessel (DSSV).

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is a senior reporter for Palawan News who covers politics, education, environment, tourism, and human interest stories. She loves watching Netflix, reading literary fiction, and listens to serial fiction podcasts. Her favorite color is blue.