Securing our food now and into the future

Perry M. Aliño
'It's about time to protect the oceans'

WEALTH OF THE SEA. An undated handout picture made available by Australia's James Cook University (JCU) on 31 January 2016 shows marine life in the Great Barrier Reef, in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. File/James Cook University

Oceans mean the whole world.

They provide us food. They offer shelter to many species that enable life to exist on earth. They protect us from the impacts of climate change.

Unfortunately, we are exploiting them, pushing ocean ecosystems to their limits. Global warming has also adversely impacted the world’s oceans increasing the water acidity and threatening coral reefs and certain marine organisms. This needs to change. It’s about time to protect them.

Particularly for Southeast Asia, a region with more than 20,000 islands, the oceans connect all 600 million of us. But the oceans are facing a lot of threats, from overfishing, destructive fishing practices, seabed mining and other extractive activities, pollution, and bioprospecting that are happening in the high and deep seas or areas beyond national waters where the problems are out of sight, out of mind.

Recently, governments came together in New York for the United Nation’s 3rd Preparatory Committee Meeting (PREPCOM) on the International Legally Binding Instrument for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biodiversity beyond Areas of National Jurisdiction (ABNJ), also referred to the high seas in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).  Quite a mouthful to say the least, but these meetings are important and will help shape the future of our common oceans.

For two weeks, there were discussions and debates on how to address the numerous problems in areas beyond national jurisdiction. If these problems are not addressed, the oceans would be an open hunting ground, where only a few benefit from the resources that belong to everyone.

One of the solutions to restore the sustaining capacity of oceans is the employment of area-based management tools such as marine protected areas and marine reserves.

A Marine Protected Area (MPA) is a designated area managed for particular objectives ranging from no-take marine reserves, marine sanctuaries and locally managed marine areas with regulated use. MPAs are one entry point for fisheries management. Marine biodiversity conservation through MPAs has been one of the successful strategies in the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI), a regional conservation effort which involves six countries in Southeast Asia, namely, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste.

Marine Protected Areas are also a strategy to fulfill our CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) commitments for sustainable inclusive development and continue the learning by doing process. But how large should an MPA be? Several small or single large? Well, it can be a combination of both. For without the creation of an extensive network of high seas marine reserves to allow stocks to recover, and an immediate halt in the depletion of our seas, the chances are that we might be having the last fish of its kind on our plates in the not-too-distant future.

MPAs often fail to reach their full potential because of factors such as illegal harvesting, regulations that legally allow detrimental harvesting, or emigration of animals outside boundaries because of inadequate size of reserve [1,2,3]. Conservation benefits increase exponentially if MPAs have 5 key features in place: no-take, well enforced, old (10 years), large (100km2), and isolated by deep water or sand. Global conservation targets based on area alone will not optimize protection of marine biodiversity. Global expansion of MPAs without adequate investment in human and financial capacity is likely to lead reduced conservation outcomes.

There is growing support for the scaling up of MPAs to establish large scale networks. This will dramatically increase their effectiveness.  How to systematically plan, coordinate this in practice, and find mechanisms to achieve global conservation commitments while being a worthwhile goal remains to be a great challenge.

On the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea area, it is estimated that the reefs in these areas cover around 30% of the total coral reef areas of the Philippines. On the Pacific seaboard of the North Philippine Sea, aside from covering a big gap in MPA representation, the opportunity to target an MPA seascape network can fill this gap. In addition, managing ABNJ outside the Philippine eastern Exclusive Economic Zone and the adjacent Benham Rise could be an area of opportunity for MPA custodianship.

Perhaps delegates can strongly consider Greenpeace’ 10 Steps to Marine Protection where identification, designation, management and enforcement of marine protected areas and marine reserves in ABNJ under the new Implementing Agreement can be vetted. –

Dr. Porfirio “Perry” M. Aliño is Research Professor at the University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute. Dr. Aliño has a Ph. D in Chemical Ecology from the James Cook University of North Queensland, Australia. He specializes in Community Ecology and Coral Reef Ecology. He is member of the Philippine Delegation to the 3rd UN PrepCom in New York. His email is