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Philippines launches marine research in Sandy Cay over WPS

The Philippines on Thursday said it has started marine research in Sandy Cay over the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to record its biodiversity and help ensure food security.

In a press conference, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson for WPS Commodore Jay Tarriela said scientists will make an assessment on Sandy Cay 1, 2, 3, and 4.

“There are actually three research groups na nili-lead ni [Dr. Jonathan Anticamara]—the UP Institute of Biology, we also have the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), we also have the Department of Agriculture - National Fisheries Research and Development Institute (DA-NFRDI),” he said.

According to Tarriela, the initial findings on Sandy Cay 1 and 2 may be presented Friday morning or afternoon after the meeting of the three research groups on Thursday evening.

Anticamara, from the UP Institute of Biology, said this is the first time that marine research will be conducted in Sandy Cay.

“The main goal of this research I think which is very interesting for the Filipinos is that these are offshore reefs that belong to the Philippines and the Filipinos do not know so much about these reefs,” he said.

“So we need to know what's going on with these reefs. So that's why we need to go underwater and we need to see what's in there,” he added.

He said the research aims to find out the kinds of corals, fishes, and invertebrates present in the WPS feature.

“Expected objectives would be, from the biological perspective and research perspective, to find out what sort of corals, fish, invertebrates can be found, what reef biodiversity are found underwater and what is the status of this biodiversity today,” Anticamara said.

“We kind of expect, because the island is offshore, that it will be healthy. There will be a lot of fish and corals,” he added.

Anticamara said the research will have different components such as for environmental assessment, biochemical assessment, basic water parameters, and fish visual census, among others.

According to Anticamara, they can also find out if there are unnatural matters in Sandy Cay. Aside from this, they can also check if there are corals from other areas that were dumped there.

In September 2023, dead and crushed corals were found in Sandy Cay 2. Experts said this was a common procedure done by China before it starts reclamation activities.

During the press conference, Tarriela said the government invited marine scientists to conduct a research also to know the environmental impacts on Sandy Cay.

“We need science to explain what are those impacts that would probably have significant effect to the biodiversity of corals, the aquatic resources, as Dr. Anticamara mentioned the objective of their research,” he said.

Tarriela also said BFAR and PCG deployed a total of four vessels in the area in anticipation of the possibility that Chinese vessels will block the Philippines’ research activities in Sandy Cay,

“That is also the reason why the BFAR has deployed two vessels. And also on the part of the PCG, [PCG Commandant Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan] supported the leadership of BFAR. That is why we deployed two Coast Guard vessels anticipating that the Chinese will always give us trouble in doing this kind of marine scientific research,” he said.

Balikatan beyond PH territory 'necessary'

As this developed, House Deputy Majority Leader Jude Acidre of Tingog party-list said the conduct of Balikatan or military exercises between the Philippine and American troops outside the Philippine territorial waters for the the first time is a necessary step in protecting the country’s national security.

Acidre was referring to the statement made by Balikatan’s executive agent Colonel Michael Logico that the Balikatan activities will be conducted beyond 12 nautical miles or 22.22 kilometers off the west coast of Palawan. The Balikatan activities, Logico said, will include a group sail and combination of division tactics; search and rescue; vehicle, boarding, search, and seizure exercises; gunnery exercises; deck landing qualifications, and well deck operations.

“Whatever effort it takes to maintain peace in any part of the world, particularly in the West Philippine Sea, is a welcome addition to our effort in for peace. We can also pursue peace by ensuring that we are in a position to protect ourselves, and we have the help of our allies to maintain our national security,” Acidre said in a press conference.

“I think that is the far more important thing: that we are able to protect ourselves, that we won’t allow any part of our country to be exploited, invaded or occupied by another power,” he added.

The July 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling upheld the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in West Philippines Sea which is 200 nautical miles off territorial sea, as well as declared Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank as located within the Philippines' EEZ as provided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).

The same Hague-based court also junked China’s expansive claim of having sovereignty over the entirety of the South China Sea, but China has been adamant in ignoring the court ruling.

“If it takes such posturing [of holding Balikatan outside our territorial waters] to project that strength, stability, and that we have the support of many of our friends, it is a welcome development," Acidre added. With a report from Llanesca T. Panti —AOL/RF, GMA Integrated News