A local academic institution will join an expedition in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) slated this March and April as continuation of the study last conducted in 2018 to establish coastal habitat monitoring stations in Kalayaan.
Assistant Professor Rodulf Anthony Balisco of the Western Philippines University (WPU) said this year’s expedition will be funded by the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UPMSI) as part of its partnership with Palawan-based institutions to strengthen marine science research is an opportunity to conduct further studies in the area given its accessibility.
Balisco said their plan to establish monitoring sites of corals and fish in Kalayaan will help Palaweños to appreciate the beauty of coral reefs and its benefits.
“Yong i-establish naming monitoring sites ng corals at fish doon ay standardized na sa ginagawa namin sa mainland Palawan. Sa corals, we take pictures underwater at ‘yon ang puwede namin ipakita sa mga Palaweño kung gaano pa kaganda ang ilang bahura sa Pag-asa at ano-ano ang magiging benepisyo nito sa atin kapag prinotektahan natin,” Balisco said.
“Isa sa activities na plano ko ay pag-establish ng coral monitoring sites kasi we will include din ‘yong seagrass at microbenthic invertebrates, particularly ‘yong giant clams at sea urchins,” he added.
Revisiting their 2018 study, Balisco said their recommendation is the establishment of monitoring stations for tourism purposes and follow up studies of related topics could be conducted.
He added that based on the studies conducted in 2008 and 2018 by WPU on the marine resources of Pag-asa, the condition of hard coral cover, volume of fishes, giant clams, and seagrass has improved. However, the number of fish types and potential biomass of fishes has decreased, while those of seagrass and seaweed species, even the number of different types of macroinvertebrates, remained the same.
“Although hindi pa ganoon ka-comprehensive ang mga pag-aaral namin, hindi pa naming matukoy kung ano ang mga posibleng dahilan ng pagbabago ng condition ng mga bahura na nakapalibot sa isla,” he said.
The previous study conducted by WPU in 2008 was funded by the local government unit (LGU) of Kalayaan, while the 2018 was jointly funded with the Department of Tourism (DOT).
Kalayaan used the data gathered by WPU in the 2018 study to formulate their Municipal Tourism Development Plan as assisted by DOT.
Balisco said that he is not familiar if there are already collaborated expeditions with UPMSI and WPU before, but he is certain that this is the first partnership of two institutions under ‘PROTECT WPS’ program.
The collaboration in expedition will help easily gather local Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) and National Government Agencies (NGAs) for immediate concerns regarding Pag-asa.
“Mahirap makapunta sa Pag-asa island, itong possible collaboration ay magiging tulay para makapunta kami doon at makapag-conduct ng researches. Good thing MSI wants to involve local HEIs (e.g. WPU, PSU, HTU) sa MSR and other researches para pwede na kami ang i-contact ng LGU or other NGAs kung mayroong concerns or future collaboration,” he said.
Institutions that could join the 2021 expedition are those with approved research proposal.
According to Dr. Deo Onda, Deputy Director for Research of UPMSI, the cost of an expedition reaches up to P350,000 a day and maximizing it in partnership with local institutions will be more beneficial to participating parties.
“The cost for doing an expedition is almost P250-P350,000 a day, kasi yong fuel, yong crew, yong pagkain, logistics ay kasama ‘yan. That’s why we are offering it kasi we want to maximize. Kung magbabayad man tayo ng P350,000 a day sa isang barko ay i-invite na natin kung sinong pwede para mas maraming makikinabang,” he said.
UPMSI has a research vessel that is dedicated for the expedition in March and April in WPS.
“Isa pa lang ang barko natin so we are dedicating March and April to WPS, then Philippine Rise sa May and hopefully ay makabalik kami ng Sulu Sea at West Philippine Sea sa June. Mga two and half months of the year,” he said.
“May long term tayo, itong project na ito this would only last for this year pero we already have budget for 2021 to 2024 so sana hanggang 2024 ay assured na ang budget natin. Iyon din ang ina-assure natin sa partners natin na hindi lang natin ito gagawin ngayon, next year pwede pa bumalik. Hanggang 2024 ay pwede tayo gumawa ng research ng sabay-sabay,” he said.
Awareness about WPS
As a Palaweño himself, Onda observed that Palaweños still lack involvement and awareness of the importance of WPS.
“Personally, yes (kulang ang involvement ng Palaweños)—Siguro hindi naman ‘yong academe, siguro limited pa sila on how they can participate, but I think Palawenos in general, medyo kulang tayo sa awareness siguro kung bakit importante ang West Philippine Sea,” he said.
He said that the end goal of the UPMSI project and long-term plan for 2030 is that expeditions will be soon conducted by local institutions such as Palawan State University (PSU) and WPU and not just UPMSI. By that time, the capacity, manpower, infrastructure, and assets like vessels are already upgraded.
“Hindi naman sa hindi na kami kailangan or hindi na necessary na kami ang gagawa kasi MSI is still the national center for marine sciences. Hopefully ay ma-decentralize ‘yon at kapag sinabing West Philippine Sea, ngayon mas kami pa ang nagsasalita about it. Sana later, bilang Palaweño ay Palaweno na ang nagsasalita, hindi na ako, sana nakikita ko na sa news na taga-Palawan they talk about West Philippine Sea,” he said.
“Kaya ganoon siguro ‘yong connection ko sa study because I am Palaweno, I understand how Palawan is actually being affected by the issues of West Philippine Sea and I want Palaweños to be involved,” he said.
Even Balisco believes that there is lack of awareness in Palaweños about WPS as same as there is lack of researchers conducting studies in the area and marine sciences related.
Based on his experience, he first set foot in Pag-asa island in 2014, then in 2015 and 2018 due to difficulty in reaching the area. Not all researchers have the opportunity to go in Pag-asa island and conduct research activities.
“May effort din naman ‘yong WESCOM na IEC ng WPS kung saan ini-engage nila ang mga youth. Pero siguro mas maganda na may WPS ambassador din katulad ng Tubbataha (TRNP) na may ambassadors sila that helped them promote the importance of TRNP to our livelihood and economy. Pwedeng i-apply ‘yong mga ginawa ng TMO sa IEC campaign nila at i-duplicate sa WPS naman,” he said.