17 March 2021


Filipino scientist to make history by reaching the 3rd deepest spot on Earth (Emden Deep in the Philippine Trench)


Dr. Deo Florence L. Onda, a microbial oceanographer of The Marine Science Institute, University of the Philippines is set to make history as one of the first humans and the first Filipino to reach the 3rd deepest spot on earth, located in the Philippine Trench called the Emden Deep which is approximately 10,400 m or 34,100 ft deep. Dr. Onda was invited by the organization Caladan Oceanic to join the Emden Deep Expedition targeted on March 22 to 28, 2021. He will be joined in the descent by Mr. Victor Vescovo, the current record holder of the deepest manned descent in the Marianas Trench in 2019. Mr. Vescovo is also the main sponsor of Caladan Oceanic, which is a private organization that has been setting records for deepest manned descents in the world’s deepest trenches, with the most recent one in the Marianas in 2019.  

Deep sea expeditions like this one are equivalent to the first early flights into outer space, thus it would be a major record-setting scientific and historic achievement. To date, most of these records are held by foreign scientists or explorers. The Philippine Trench is a unique feature found within the EEZ of the Philippines, and it is only appropriate that a Filipino scientist be one of the first to hold this record in the Emden Deep. 

Dr. Onda and Mr. Vescovo will dive the Emden Deep onboard the DSSV Pressure Drop, the only marine vessel in the world capable of launching the deep-sea submersible DSV Limiting Factor that can carry humans and repeatedly dive to the deepest parts in the world’s oceans.

Part of the goal is to wave the Philippine Flag in the Emden Deep during its record-setting voyage, highlighting that it is an integral part of our nation’s heritage. Dr. Onda, as the sole Filipino researcher representing the country, will also be given a unique opportunity to be exposed to state-of-the-art vessels capable of deep-sea activities, which can enrich our experiences and knowledge as the Philippines builds its own National Academic Research Fleet (NARFleet), an ongoing national project funded by the Philippine Government. This endeavor can spark interest and passion for many other young Filipinos who would want to make a career in the sciences and bring more attention to the protection, preservation, and conservation of the Philippine marine environment.


Dr. Onda is now onboard the DSSV Pressure Drop and will start the voyage from the port of Guam to the Philippine Trench. This activity has been fully coordinated with the Philippine Government through the Department of Foreign Affairs and is considered a non-Marine Scientific Research (MSR) activity.


For more information, please send inquiries to,ph/ (632) 922-3962, (632) 981-8500 local 2902 or email Mr. Rob McCallum (, the expedition leader of the Caladan Expedition. 


Please join us in saying a prayer and remembering our dear founding Director/National Scientist/University Professor Emeritus Edgardo D. Gomez who passed away a year ago on Dec 1, 2019.

A letter for Dr. Ed Gomez on his first death anniversary

Dear Dr. Gomez (Ed, Sir),

One year has passed since you left us, and we miss you. Today, we pause from our seemingly harried life because of the COVID-19 pandemic and remember you with much gratitude for your extraordinary contributions and the rich legacy you leave us behind.

Your vision built MSI from scratch into a world-renowned institution that we indeed are all proud to be a part of. That vision shaped marine science in the Philippines and saw the development of other institutions in different parts of the country.

Being part of MSI is truly a privilege and an honor. It has opened many opportunities for us to pursue our professional and personal goals and serve the university and the country. We are indeed standing on the shoulders of Giants, with your being the tallest.

You created a culture of excellence, hard work, integrity, and honesty, which you showed by example, and that we hope to continue and maintain. You have taught us never to grow tired of giving our best, and always to have the right attitude, for it is the key to success.

You have given MSI the best years of your life. We thank you for your passion, dedication, and motivation, which made a significant difference to MSI and the field of marine science. Please rest assured that your legacy will live in each one of us wherever the seas take us.

With all our love and respect,                                                                                                                                                                    Your MSI Family

 A mass has been offered for EDG at the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice at UPD,  Dec 1, 2020 at 12 noon. Mass is live-streamed via Facebook.



This is to clarify the statement made by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Undersecretary Benny Antiporda accusing the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UPMSI) of charging the DENR half a billion pesos in consultation fees and being, in a word, “bayaran.”

Specifically, the correct amount is PhP364,073,909.40 total for the last decade, spanning ten collaborative projects between the UPMSI and the DENR as well as co-sponsorship support for a scientific symposium. This is hardly the half a billion the Undersecretary has been claiming. It is simply the cost of the collaborative projects for which the DENR had the need for the expertise of the UPMSI. This PhP364 million supported projects tasked with nationwide standardized assessments of National Integrated Protected Areas Systems sites, enhancing capacity for management and rehabilitation of marine ecosystems, and strengthening understanding of Philippine waters from the West Philippine Sea to the Philippine Rise in the Pacific. This amount covered the cost of scientific research and investigation, from the use of laboratories and research equipment and facilities to field work and support to research assistants. The funds also supported capacity-building of national government agencies and Higher Education Institutions personnel. These costs are typically shouldered by clients requesting the UPMSI’s services, as the Institute has no access to funds that would support the conduct of scientific inquiry on top of the research it is already doing. To reiterate, all of the UPMSI’s research and development activities are project-based, with very specific fund disbursement guidelines and limitations. The internal Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) funds of UPMSI are limited to maintaining the laboratory facilities and field equipment in Diliman and the Bolinao Marine Laboratory.

Moreover, the UPMSI welcomes being audited by the Commission on Audit at any time. This is only appropriate for any government office or agency, given the understanding that any funding received by the Institute is ultimately channeled into scientific projects meant to protect the Philippines’ marine ecology and to promote the development of the nation—as should be the case for any government office or agency. 

The UPMSI recognizes the DENR as a long-standing partner in its quest to conduct research and render public service to the Filipino. Indeed, many UPMSI graduates have gone on to work for the DENR—UP graduates who remain committed to UP’s principles of honor and excellence. Hence, the UPMSI remains willing and open to extending its services to the DENR, no matter the passing opinions of the day.





The UP Marine Science Institute reaffirms its commitment to a partnership with the DENR and other government agencies as it clarifies some point regarding "cost of services" following DENR Undersecretary Antiporda's recent comments. 

The UPMSI: A tradition of scientific exploration, public service and partnership with gov’t

The University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UPMSI) [], one of the seven academic institutes of the UP College of Science in Diliman, has been serving as the University's coordinating base for marine research since its establishment as the Marine Sciences Center in 1974. Since its elevation to an Institute in 1985, the UP MSI has been offering graduate programs in marine biology, marine chemistry, physical oceanography, marine geology, and related disciplines, training some of the country's top marine experts over the past decades.

In keeping with UP’s mandate to serve as a public service university, the UP MSI has been providing various forms of community and public service as well as scholarly and technical assistance to the government, the private sector and civil society. Some projects are aimed at rehabilitating seas and coastal sites in the country, including Manila Bay. Some of these seek to study and conserve the country's lush marine biodiversity, such as the giant clams of the UPMSI's Bolinao Marine Laboratory in Pangasinan [], and the giant shipworms or tamilok in Sultan Kudarat []. The UPMSI regularly conducts workshops, local and international conferences, and training courses. It also partners with coastal communities, people’s organizations, non-government organizations, local government units, and national government agencies in projects that directly address local and national needs, with funding from government, private groups or from international sources.

Some of the UPMSI's initiatives have gained prominence in media. One of these is the exploration of marine life in the West Philippine Sea and Benham Rise, with the UPMSI leading teams of scientists and researchers from various UP units and government agencies such as the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of the Department of Agriculture and the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). In addition, the UPMSI is also engaged in many other collaborations with the DENR, including: research into the resilience of fish, coral reefs, and other ecosystems; the development of a management system in key biodiversity areas; coastal land use planning and rehabilitation; and, studies on ocean transport and ecological connectivity. In fact, UPMSI scientists have been presenting the results of their investigations into the West Philippine Sea and the Philippine Rise via the four-episode Philippine Seas: Webinar Series [] of the DENR BMB Facebook page. []

In response to DENR Undersecretary Benny D. Antiporda's remarks during a recent press conference regarding updates on Manila Bay [], the UPMSI affirms its continued commitment to make available to the government the services of its researchers, scientists and experts, including the DENR, as needed to further the country's development. Antiporda’s remarks were made in reaction to the UPMSI’s September 30 official statement that the crushed dolomite sand would not help solve the root of the environmental problems in Manila Bay. []

However, with regard to Antiporda's comment on working with the UPMSI as long as the services are "free", adding that "every time we consult them, we pay so much money that people don’t know" and pegging this amount at the "hundreds of millions", the UPMSI would like to clarify that the Institute provides the scientific advice and technical inputs of its experts for free, in accordance with UP’s mandate as national university. However, some questions and problems cannot be addressed without conducting research in the field or laboratory experiments so as to come up with science-based answers or to develop local capabilities.

The costs of scientific research and investigation, from the use of laboratories and research equipment and facilities, to support for research assistants, should be, as they actually are shouldered by the clients, as the UPMSI is not a line agency in the government’s executive branch. Moreover, all of the UPMSI’s research and development activities are project-based, with very specific fund disbursement guidelines and limitations. The internal Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) funds of UPMSI are limited to maintaining the laboratory facilities and field equipment in Diliman and the Bolinao Marine Laboratory.

UPMSI Director Dr. Laura T. David said in a statement: “Recognizing the need and the limited funds available, the University was given General Appropriations Act funding for the first time in 46 years so that UPMSI could conduct necessary marine scientific research in Philippine waters. Hence, for as long as the science inquiries of the national government agencies fall within planned marine scientific research, only minimal additional funding will be needed.”

Director David reiterates that “UPMSI has had many productive collaborations with DENR, and we recognize DENR’s expertise in a wide variety of fields.”

For the sake of protecting the country’s marine ecology for future generations of Filipinos, the working partnership between the DENR and other government agencies and the UPMSI will continue for many years to come. 



30 September 2020

Official Statement of the UP Marine Science Institute on the Dolomite Sand in Manila Bay 

Crushed Dolomite sand will not help solve the root of environmental problems in Manila Bay

Manila Bay is strategically located in the heart of the most densely populated area in the Philippines.  It has a long history of use for shipping, navigation, and port services going back to the 16th century.  In addition to its cultural and historical significance, Manila Bay is important economically as site of industrial activities, human settlement, and source of fisheries. 

Manila Bay is bounded by four provinces and Metro Manila and is drained by 17,000 km2 of watershed which is home to 30% of the entire population of the country, and 42% of agricultural areas.  Both terrestrial and marine environments are intricately connected, such that the state of Manila Bay today is a testament of collective efforts and inaction. 

Due to the myriad of uses of Manila Bay, pollution continues to be a major problem.  To address the continued pollution in Manila Bay, a Supreme Court ”Continuing Mandamus” was issued in 2008 ordering 13 government agencies headed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to “clean up, rehabilitate, and preserve Manila Bay, and restore and maintain its waters to Class SB level to make them fit for swimming, skin-diving, and other forms of contact recreation”.  


The Manila Bay Beach Nourishment project is part of DENR’s plan to restore the Bay.  Dolomite grains, which are 2 to 5 mm in diameter, are the tan-colored aesthetic topping of a reclaimed area along the Baywalk in Roxas Boulevard.  Currently on the Phase 2 of the project, dolomite grains were laid as a topping of the 60 m-wide x 120m-long reclaimed beach bordered by a seawall.  The intended thickness of the dolomite topping is 1 meter but could no longer be achieved due to the ban imposed by Cebu LGU on further extraction and transport.  DENR’s plan is to extend the reclamation further to the south for a total length of 500 m.

Environmental Problems in Manila Bay that need to be addressed

1. Poor water quality

Sewer coverage in the major cities surrounding Manila Bay is only 16% and less than 20% of the sewage is treated.  Hence a big part of the Bay’s environmental problems comes from poor waste management.  The Bay receives high organic matter load (250,000t BOD (Biochemical oxygen demand)/yr), with a large contribution from Pasig River.  Fecal coliform, which originates from human and animal wastes, is elevated reaching >200 million MPN/100 ml in waste outfalls as compared to the allowable maximum limit of 5000 MPN/100 ml for Class SC waters (current classification of Manila Bay).  Due to the high organic load received by the Bay, low dissolved oxygen (DO) or hypoxic (<2 mg/L) conditions in bottom waters occur from organic matter decomposition processes.  This DO level is below the allowable minimum level of 5 mg/L set by DENR.  Hypoxic conditions in Manila Bay can be extensive especially during the southwest monsoon with low oxygen shoaling to ~5m thereby covering 80% of the water column in parts of the Bay as seen in August 2011 (Sotto et al., 2014).  There is consequent release of nutrients (e.g. phosphate, nitrates) from organic matter breakdown, in addition to nutrients sourced from freshwater runoff and river discharges.  Low DO is one reason for the occurrence of fish kills.

The lack of wastewater treatment plants surrounding the watershed of Manila Bay, and the loss of natural clean-up from wetland, mangrove, and seagrass ecosystem services, are not able to filter and remove pollutants that drain from urban and residential areas.  These include wastewaters that are discharged by homes or establishments or channeled into storm drains.  Some components in wastewaters are emerging pollutants detected in Manila Bay, which include personal care and pharmaceutical products, endocrine disrupting substances (e.g. hormones, pesticides), fecal steroids, and plastic components in micro- and nano- sizes.  

2. Threat of erosion

In Manila Bay, the transport of nearshore sediments is strongly influenced by wind direction, wave action and tidal fluctuation.  Long-term sediment dispersal patterns can change with modifications of the coastal area either through natural or anthropogenic processes.  For instance, the southernmost jetty of the Pasig River traps sediments and other floating material (e.g. garbage) discharging from Pasig River.  Seawalls built to protect the coast may delay the erosion of the shoreline, but will initiate deepening just offshore of the seawall, as seen off the Baywalk in Manila Bay (Siringan and Ringor, 1998).  Additional reclaimed areas south of the Baywalk have shut down the sediment supply brought by longshore currents from the south, further offsetting the deposition of sediments and enhancing erosion of this area.  Even with increasing high rates of sediments delivered to the coast from the watershed, the longshore current from Pasig River to Meycauayan River during high sediment delivery during southwest monsoon is northwest and thus will not tend to deposit into the eroding Baywalk area.  Suspended material will mostly be transported further offshore by the converging currents of surface gyres generated by southwest winds (de las Alas and Sadusta, 1985; Villanoy and Martin, 1987; de las Alas, 1990).

Implications of using crushed Dolomite sand in Manila Bay

1. The addition of Dolomites crushed to 2-5 mm diameter cannot serve to anchor the loss of beach sand, nor serve as replacement for eroded sediments.  Sound beach nourishment practices need to consider the appropriate composition and density of the material. Usually, sediment sizes are coarser than the replaced deposit to keep these materials within the area, otherwise these sediments will eventually erode.  Beach nourishment projects are not one-shot deals, especially for continuously eroding shorelines, which covers the stretch from Pampanga to Bulacan and Manila area enhanced by excessive groundwater extraction and subsequently land subsidence.  Dolomite sand grains will erode given the hydrodynamic conditions in coastal Metro Manila during storms.  Even with the breakwater off the baywalk area, elevated seas and larger waves during storms can penetrate and pound the Baywalk area.  Hence, continuously replacing the sand will be expensive and will not contribute to improving water quality in the Bay.

2. In a backdrop of warming seas and rising sea levels, much erosion during the southwest monsoon or storm season is expected.  Sea level rise in our tropical seas yield the highest rates in the world, about three to four times more than the global average of 3.3 mm/yr.  In a warming world, an increasing number of more intense storms are generated.  The Dolomite sand will wash away into the Bay with subsequent intense and heavy rainfall events and wave action especially during storms.  For instance, storm surges ramped up as much as 6m of waves along Roxas Boulevard during Typhoon Pedring in 2011. Dolomite particles will be carried out to sea during such events. 

3. Dolomites are Calcium Magnesium carbonates [CaMg(CO3)2] formed from Calcium Carbonate [Ca(CO3)] muds later altered by reaction with Magnesium-enriched porewaters.  The result is a carbonate rock that reacts less or slower with acid compared to the usual limestone rock.  Acid rain (pH <5.6) close to cities, such as in Metro Manila and groundwater seeping across the beach will slowly dissolve these dolomite granules and dissociate them into ions including carbonates (CO3).  Carbonates are important in maintaining the alkalinity (or basicity) of the seas or raising the pH level to balance the effects of ocean acidification.  However, ocean acidification occurs on a much larger scale, such that augmentation in the carbonate ion budget from dolomite addition is not a solution to the potential acidification happening in Manila Bay.  

4. The addition of white sand invites more contact of people with a chemically uncharacterized material.  The finer particles of Dolomite are more problematic as with other rock materials that are pulverized.  Dust inhalation may “cause discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath, and coughing.  Prolonged inhalation may cause chronic health effects”. Grain size of particles should be monitored to make sure these are not the size which may cause health problems.  

Way Forward

The clean-up of Manila Bay will be a long and arduous task.  It must be a concerted effort by everyone living in its watersheds and those using the bay.  This will entail infrastructure infusion for wastewater treatment plants, transfer of informal settlers especially those living in the dangerous riverbanks and coastal areas, “operationally clean” effluent discharge, decreased sedimentation from the watershed, and zero garbage inputs.  These are achieved with government interventions, social and community behavioral change, and legislations and policy guidelines implemented. 

In addition, we need to review closely the parameters that are tested for water quality monitoring in DAO-2016-08.  This is timely as the guidelines are due for review every few years.  The range of allowable values, component measured, protocols for how and where water samples were collected are some of the major items to review.  There is also a need to monitor emerging organic pollutants including plastic components. 

In the watershed, massive reforestation is needed.  Retention ponds may be added that can serve as multi-use areas to store and treat water that may be combined with park and recreation facilities and urban gardening.

There are no short-cuts to a cleaner environment.  The use of crushed Dolomite sand will not help solve the environmental problems in Manila Bay.  At most, it is a beautification effort that is costly and temporary.  The task of cleaning and restoring Manila Bay may be daunting but it needs to be done for future generations of Filipinos to benefit from its many uses.     


de Las Alas, JG, 1990. Estimation of sedimentation rate in Manila Bay. In HT Yap, M Bohle-Carbonell, and ED Gomez (eds), Oceanography and Marine Pollution: An ASEAN-EC Perspective, Proceedings of the ASEAN-EC Seminar/Workshop on Marine Science. Quezon City, Marine Science Institute, University of the Philippines: pp. 334-358.

de Las Alas, JG, and Sodusta JA, 1985. A model for the wind driven circulation of Manila Bay. Natural Applied Science Bulletin 37(2), 159-170.

Siringan, FP and Ringor CL, 1997. Predominant Nearshore Sediment Dispersal Patterns in Manila Bay. Science Diliman 9(1 & 2), 29-40.

Siringan, FP and Ringor CL, 1998. Changes in Bathymetry and Their Implications to Sediment Dispersal and Rates of Sedimentation in Manila Bay. Science Diliman 10(2), 12-26.

Sotto, LPA, Jacinto GS, Villanoy CL, 2014. Spatiotemporal variability of hypoxia and eutrophication in Manila Bay, Philippines during the northeast and southwest monsoons. Marine Pollution Bulletin 85, 446-454.

Villanoy, C and Martin M, 1997. Modeling the circulation of Resources, Manila. Manila Bay: Assessing the relative magnitudes of wind and tide forcing. Science Diliman 9(1/2), 26-35.

Figure 1. Circulation pattern in Manila Bay after de las Alas and Sadusta (1985), Villanoy and Martin (1987), de las Alas (1990). Red box indicates site of dolomite beach nourishment. Note that due to the prevailing circulation pattern, this site has a high tendency for material dispersion leading to erosion.

Figure 2. Deepening areas (black polygons with white contours) close to the Baywalk is due to increased wave reflection and subsequent erosion of sediments on the seafloor. Erosion on the seafloor can enhance erosion of nearby coastal areas including the beach nourishment area. Hence, there will be need for frequent and expensive re-nourishment, if the area is to be maintained.


It's a double celebration for The Marine Science Institute!
The UPMSI congratulates another Professor Emeritus this year, Dr. Maria Lourdes San Diego-McGlone!
Dr. Maria Lourdes San Diego-McGlone is one of the very few and pioneering chemical oceanographers in the Philippines and is currently the head of the Marine Biogeochemistry Laboratory of UP MSI. Through the years, her research focus has been on the changing coastal water quality, nutrient fluxes and budgets, primary production, and the effect of human activities on the land-ocean-sediment-atmosphere interactions. She has also been part of several multi-disciplinary researches involving the chemical hydrography of the Philippine seas. Until now, her research projects continue to address environmental stressors such as eutrophication, harmful algal blooms and ocean acidification, and their impact on coastal systems including coral reefs and blue carbon ecosystems.
She led UP MSI as Director from 2006 to 2012 and is an active member and served as an officer of the Marine Environment and Resources Foundation, Inc. (MERF). She has been also active in participating in the events of the IOC Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific (WESTPAC) on ocean acidification. She has headed research programs on Coastal Ecosystem Conservation and Adaptive Management under Local and Global Environmental Impacts in the Philippines (CECAM), and Coastal Acidification: How it affects the marine environment and resources in the Philippines (CAP).
Her works have been published in high-impact journals contributing to her rank as UP Scientist 1. She is one of the respected experts on marine water quality recognized by government and non-government agencies and has authored a number of manuals on water sampling and marine water quality criteria for mariculture areas. She has been a mentor to several graduate and undergraduate students in the field of chemistry and marine biogeochemistry, as well as to high school on-the-job trainees who were taught basic chemical oceanography techniques as one of the paths to pursue in college. She has been a lecturer and trainer to Professional Master’s in Tropical Marine Ecosystems Management (PM TMEM) students, and an educator to those who seek guidance on her field of expertise.
Warm congratulations, Professor Emeritus Dr. Maria Lourdes San Diego-McGlone!! Your UP MSI family is truly proud of you!
Text by Dr. Charissa M. Ferrera, layout by Mr. Jose Nickolo Perez and photo by UPD Information Office (UPDIO)


The UP Marine Science Institute congratulates Dr. Gisela P. Concepcion for another notable academic milestone!
Dr. Concepcion was recently conferred as Professor Emeritus of the University of the Philippines. Professor Emeritus is a title for life bestowed to retired professors for their exceptional contribution to the university.
Among Dr. Concepcion's significant contributions in the field of marine natural products chemistry are researches geared towards discovery of anti-cancer, antibacterial, antituberculosis, antimalarial, anti-inflammatory, neuroactive, and immunosuppressant properties of novel compounds through studies on marine natural products. She has published her scientific contributions in high-impact factor journals; with patents and patent applications. She has also mentored and co-advised graduate students from the Philippines and abroad.
Dr. Concepcion also held several posts in the university and a member of scientific organizations such as Philippine-American Academy of Science and Engineering (PAASE), where she is the current President and the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), pushing for academic reforms, increased government support for S&T, and advocating for "science for the people".
Dr. Concepcion is the 5th among UPMSI's Professors Emeriti.

Congratulations Professor Emeritus Gisela P. Concepcion!
Your UPMSI family is so proud of you!

[Get to know more about Dr. Concepcion's works:]


Pagtatapos 2020

MSI congratulates its 2020 graduates!

25 July 2020



The UP Marine Science Institute (MSI) congratulates its graduates and takes pride for the highest number of graduated MS students (15) within the College of Science this year. 

Graduates include Michael P. Atrigenio, a lone Ph.D. in Marine Science (Marine Biology), while Masters degree graduates include seven (7) MS in Marine Science specialized in Marine Biology (Ritzelle L. Albeda, Christine C. Baran, Katya G. Bonilla, Kevin L. Labrador, Jue Alef A. Lalas, Danielle Mae M. Matriano, and Darryl Anthony M. Valino); five (5) MS in Marine Science with a specialization in Marine Biotechnology (Jeric P. Daanoy, Exequiel Gabriel S. Dizon, Keith Limuel C. Bejasa, Joeriggo M. Reyes, and Bryan John J. Subong) and MS graduates in Marine Science specialized in Marine Physical Sciences (Anabel A. Gammaru and Bienson Ceasar D.V. Narvarte). Lastly,  Cirilo A. Lagnason, Jr. graduated with Professional Masters in Tropical Marine Ecosystems Management (PM-TMEM). 


Padayon mga mandaragat ng Pilipinas!






02 July 2019
Official Statement of the UP Marine Science Institute on the West Philippine Sea 

The West Philippine Sea is for Filipinos

The UP Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) believes that our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) should be actively protected and cared for to safeguard the economic, ecological, and food security of current and future Filipino generations.

The EEZ is the area surrounding the Philippines up to 200 nautical miles (370km) from the shore. A rich fishing ground plentiful in marine life, the WPS EEZ stretches from Batanes to the south of Balabac in Southern Palawan, including the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in the Spratlys. While the municipal waters, which are nearer to shore are more productive in terms of fish catch per unit area, the WPS EEZ, which contains around 40% of the Philippines’ EEZ, has higher total fisheries production than the WPS municipal waters combined. Dr. Jay Batongbacal and Assoc. Justice Antonio Carpio discussed the legality and constitutionality of inclinations towards opening the WPS EEZ to foreign entities; UP MSI would then like to shed light and share information on the ecological implications and social consequences of tolerating foreign access.

Fisheries production of both municipal and EEZ waters of the country has declined over the past decades, and is predicted to drop further by 25-50% in a few years’ time. Part of solving the problem is understanding the processes and interconnectivity of oceans and seas. For example, eggs, larvae, and small fishes born in the WPS and the larger Spratly Islands drift along ocean currents and settle in the coastal areas of Western Palawan and Northwestern Luzon. Such information is important in crafting effective and appropriate management strategies that will help us sustain local stocks, securing food for current and future generations of Filipinos.

The key to utilizing and protecting resources in the WPS EEZ is EXCLUSIVE ACCESS. Allowing foreign entities to occupy and exploit these waters would be tantamount to denying Filipino fisherfolks access to their own food and resources.

Our exclusive economic rights also come with equal responsibility to protect, manage, and sustainably use the resources in our WPS EEZ – a responsibility enshrined in our constitution and national laws. As stewards of WPS, we are responsible for deterring ongoing and future activities and practices that endanger or damage our resources. These laws that apply to Filipinos should also apply to ALL, with no exemptions. Reported activities of foreign vessels, such as the Chinese fishing fleets in our EEZ violate both local and international standards. Harvesting of clams and corals, dead or alive, results in significant physical damages and ultimate demise of the habitats from where they were taken. These are the same habitats that serve as home and breeding grounds of most marine life, and source of food of many Filipinos.

Damages to marine habitats and resources will affect ecosystem services. These include fundamental (e.g., foods, habitats, novel products), regulatory (e.g., climate, biogeochemical cycles), environmental (e.g., biogeography, genetic diversity), and cultural (e.g., disaster reduction) services. Alarmingly, we are losing these services at a rate faster than we are understanding them. Aside from corals and clams, WPS is also rich in seaweeds, seagrasses, other animals, and even microorganisms. Some of these marine microbes may become sources of new drugs, medicines, and other biotechnological products. Emerging issues such as trash and plastics have already been found accumulating in these environments, but there is no clear understanding of their impact yet. Losing these habitats and ecosystems would mean losing many resources that could benefit future generations of Filipinos.

Given recent issues related to the WPS, the UP MSI would like to reiterate our following calls in order to move forward:

  1. We call for all parties to stop, deter and avoid activities that may further compromise the status and health of these resources, and to strictly implement laws and policies that are already in place;
  2. We call for the establishment of multilateral marine protected areas (MPAs), along with international scientific cooperation on joint studies and expeditions in South China Sea. Recognizing the sensitivity of this issue, we call on the governments of the Philippines, China, and ASEAN states to seriously discuss these possibilities by acknowledging the SCS as a shared heritage that we will bestow on future generations;
  3. Knowing the importance of scientific information in crafting appropriate and effective management strategies, we call on the national agencies to invest more on Science and Technology (S&T) in our EEZ by equipping and empowering our local scientists through infrastructure and human resources developments;
  4. As the Philippines transitions to blue economy, we call on the creation of a separate Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) that will be mandated to study, utilize, manage and protect the largest ecosystem and future biggest contributor to Philippine economy - Our Oceans and Seas;
  5. We call on the public to become more aware and be part of a MOVEMENT for RESPONSIBLE STEWARDSHIP not only for WPS but all the seas surrounding the country, and we hope that such involvement would not stop in shares, likes and comments in social media. Ordinary citizens can become involved by educating people and improving the level of discourse with use of scientific facts and data, and by stopping disinformation and misinformation.
  6. We call on ourselves, other academic and research institutions, and related NGOs to educate the public on the importance of the WPS and other waters surrounding the Philippines, and the urgency of its protection.

Filipinos, proud protectors of the West Philippine Sea! Padayon!





On April 22, 2019 (Monday), the University of the Philippines - Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) will hold a Send-off Program for their joint scientific expedition with the Department of Agriculture – Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) to the Kalayaan Island Group in the West Philippine Sea (KIG-WPS) under the DENR-Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR BMB) funded project "Predicting Responses between Ocean Transport and Ecological Connectivity of Threatened ecosystems in the West Philippines Sea (PROTECT-WPS)". The expedition will take place from April 22 to May 6, 2019.

The expedition is a continuation of the activities done in previous years. PROTECT-WPS will conduct biological and oceanographic research activities and surveys in some reefs and islands in the KIG-WPS with the aim of generating baseline data and understand changes occurring in threatened marine ecosystems. The conduct of the expedition is under the Coordinated National MSR Initiatives and Related Activities in Philippine Waters 2019 (CONMIRA 2019), which is overseen by the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) and facilitated by the National Coast Watch Council Secretariat (NCWCS). 

The event will take place from 9am to 11am at the Philippine Coast Guard's Cunanan Wharf, Pier 15, South Harbor, Manila City. 

For inquires and more information, please contact Dr. Deo Florence L. Onda, PROTECT WPS Chief Scientist at 981-8500 loc. 2916 or at with office at Rm. 201, The Marine Science Institute, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City.

Restoring Life through A New Peace 

Statement on China's announcement of its plan to conduct coral reef rehabilitation

Recent events in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) present new opportunities albeit fraught with great challenges. Prof. Jay Batongbacal has pointed the pitfalls of allowing China’s unilateral effort of restoring the ecological damages brought about building artificial islands in the reefs the WPS.

Many scientific studies have shown the importance of the connectivity of marine fisheries to food security, especially to the Philippines’ artisanal fishers and our pelagic commercial fisheries like the galunggong. This interconnectedness of the social and ecological systems though well expounded by many scientists, has not prospered due to China’s reluctance to recognize and accept responsibility for the ecological and social consequences the reclamation and artificial island-building has brought upon the littoral states of the South China Sea. Its announcement that it will pursue restoration and rehabilitation work offers technological fixes, but is fraught with possible political consequences. As pointed out, these may solve some ecological problems but result in unilateral exercises of jurisdiction, jeopardizing the Rule of Law and disregarding the ruling of the Hague arbitral tribunal. In addition, the silence as regard access arrangements and consequences may lead the other claimants to suspect the nobility of China’s intentions.

Be that as it may, many in the marine science community find opportunities in China’s recognition of the need to begin to address some of the ecological consequences of their activities in the South China Sea. While accepting responsibility of damages was a remote possibility for China some years ago, the recent announcement of reef restoration efforts could be an opening for considering multilateral scientific cooperation anew.

There has long been a consensus among many scientists in the region that cooperation in science and technology is an important venue for cooperation.  A critical and strategic first step together which has been proposed by the Philippines in various fora, is the establishment of a multilateral marine protected areas (MPA) network. Beyond the establishment of the MPA network and the essential scientist and cooperative engagement, other steps can be explored such as the restocking of the endangered giant clams and sustainable mariculture of other high-value species, in addition to reef restoration. More comprehensive measures may be opened that help in sustaining food security through fisheries cooperation. Perhaps with these initial efforts, it will be possible to eventually address more complicated concerns like ecotourism, energy development, and marine environmental management.

In light of the ASEAN-China Declaration for a Decade of Coastal and Marine Environmental Protection signed in 2017. We in the marine scientific community are keeping an open mind and are calling upon China for more information about its intentions and plans for coral reef restoration in the SCS. Our hope is that this activity can be a sincere effort toward multilateral cooperation in marine environmental conservation and protection. Cognizant of the sensitive nature of this proposal, we further call upon China, the Government of the Philippines, and the scientific communities and governments of the littoral States of the SCS to sincerely and seriously discuss this possibility. This would make this initiative a truly cooperative and mutually beneficial activity, without prejudice to their respective positions and claims to restore and maintain the ecological balance and health of the South China Sea. This area of highest marine biodiversity in the planet which is the region’s common maritime heritage, demands nothing less. 


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