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DENR Bureau eyes local ARMS production

By Catherine J. Teves

MANILA, May 19 (PNA) — The environment department's Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) is looking into local production of autonomous reef monitoring structure (ARMS) devices used in assessing reef biodiversity so this agency can deploy these nationwide.

"In our proposed 2016 budget, we'll include funding for local ARMS production," said BMB Director Theresa Mundita Lim.

She said BMB considers such option since ARMS devices can be fabricated in the country.

"We'll deploy locally fabricated ARMS as long as we get the budget for producing these," she assured.

BMB and its partners will retrieve, beginning this month, ARMS units these already deployed in Philippine marine waters.

"Donated by the US government through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the ARMS units are designed to monitor overall health conditions of coral reefs," said BMB's mother agency Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

DENR noted the units can also yield data on impacts of climate change within a marine ecosystem.

"The last couple of years saw a decline in fish biomass in some parts of the country," Lim said, highlighting need for data sustained ARMS deployment can provide. "Recent observations also showed lesser available variety of pelagic fishery products in local markets and forthe dinner table of ordinary Filipinos. Is it overfishing? Pollution? Reclamation? Climate change? Or perhaps all of these? Before we see the negative impacts on larger marine organisms and on the entire ecosystem, we will be able to first observe minute changes in the oceans' micro-organisms. This will enable us to act more quickly andtherefore develop and implement solutions before the problem becomes full-blown and out of control."

Data show BMB and its partners already deployed in 2012 a total of 30 ARMS units in Verde Island Passage off Batangas province.

The partners also deployed in 2013 one ARMS unit in each of Carabao Island in Cavite province, Snake Island in Palawan province and Cordova municipality in Cebu province.

Such units' retrieval is among activities for the country's annual Month of the Ocean celebration this May.

BMB reported entering earlier with US-based Smithsonian Institution the collaborative research agreement covering use of ARMS for biodiversity assessment across geographic and anthropogenic impact gradients in Philippine waters.

Among BMB's collaborators on the undertaking are NOAA, USAID as well as the Philippine government's Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, University of the Philippines and Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development.

Authorities continue urging action on conservation, protection and sustainable management of reefs nationwide, noting pollution, coastal development, population pressure and climate change are threatening these resources.

Over 70 percent of the Philippines' 27,000 square kilometers of coral reefs are in "poor" condition already, they warned.

They also said about half of the country's sea grass beds have been either lost of degraded since the 1950s, they continued.

"Determination of species assemblages existing in a given area provides valuable baseline information that'll allow us to follow changes in diversity and richness of fishery resources that can supply our human population," Lim said, explaining need for ARMS deployment.

BMB is considering disputed West Philippine Sea (WPS) — one of government's priority seascapes — as among possible areas for future deployment of ARMS devices.

"There are possible deployment sites in WPS," Lim said earlier this week, referring to the marine area also known as South China Sea.

She said BMB already commenced looking into possible WPS sites so this agency can propose these to its local and foreign partners.

South China Sea is the subject of territorial dispute between China and several Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines.

The Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) raised concern about biodiversity loss in WPS, reporting last month that China's reclamation activities already destroyed some 300 hectares of coral reef systems there.

Estimated economic loss from such destruction will reach some USD100 million annually, DFA also said.

BMB clarified its search of ARMS deployment sites in WPS is limited to areas the Philippines is claiming as its own, however. (PNA)

SCS/CJT/EDS

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