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Oceanography and the Philippine Ocean Policy
G.S. Jacinto

Oceanographic studies can have a key role in helping shape and strengthen Philippine ocean policy. This role is dictated by the fact that the Philippines is an archipelago with thousands of islands with interesting features and bordered by one of the deepest trenches in the world. First, the country is strategically located for studying the through flow of water between the Pacific and Indian oceans. Second, the country is at the center of marine biodiversity for many marine taxa, particularly the shallow water communities of global importance, including coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove swamps. And third, the country borders marginal seas next to the Asian continent. These seas are being perceived more and more as playing a significant role in materials transfer and climate variability.

Opportunities for the development of oceanography are heavily dependent on how the government views the utility of oceanographic studies in the development of ocean policy. Recent events in the global, regional, and national arena are contributing to the growing awareness on the part of the government to give more attention to the oceans. With the overexploitation of coastal resources, efforts are being initiated to find effective ways to manage offshore resources and these are manifested in the interest of different government agencies to collaborate in the conduct of oceanographic research. There is also commitment and interest of the Philippine government to collaborate with other countries in oceanographic research as well as contribute to global and regional programs to address global environmental problems.

One notable effort is the oceanography program of the UP Marine Science Institute that focuses on the South China Sea (SCS). This is a strategic body of water that is surrounded by nations which are at the helm of industrialization and rapid economic growth in the Asia Pacific region. The SCS provides a mechanism to link marine science research to ocean policy. With its high marine biodiversity, centrally located shoal reefs, and its close coupling with the monsoons, the South China Sea is undeniably interesting. The scientific studies in the islands and shoals in the SCS could provide the basis for furthering a policy of non-extractive activities and setting up of marine parks to manage and protect the area. Technical and scientific information from the area are necessary to make crucial decisions with respect to sovereignty and the dispensability of disputed territory.

The SCS and adjacent territorial waters also raise policy issues in relation to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Oceanographers and oceanographic studies can provide inputs to policymakers on how best to implement the law of the sea provisions.

The University can help address these issues by: (1) training more oceanographers; (2) providing funds to go into ocean research and push for postgraduate research in oceanography; (3) presenting innovative mechanisms to run and maintain research vessels in the country so that scientists can focus on the scientific questions and activities; (4) giving more items for research faculty and technicians to help fulfill the tremendous research requirements; (5) developing a Balik-Oceanographer program in which overseas Filipino oceanographers who have earned their degrees abroad are enticed to come home for short periods of time to conduct research and transfer knowledge; (6) strengthening linkages with other groups and raising public awareness about the importance of the sciences in formulating policy; and (7) playing a lead role in defining, improving, and implementing the national marine policy.

Specific areas of research related to oceanographic studies, coastal zone development, and overall environmental management include: (1) determining the impact of tourism on marine life and biodiversity; (2) tourismís effect on the water quantity and quality management; (3) pollution loading to the marine environment from industrial, agricultural and domestic sources; and (4) technology adaptation, specifically on the extraction and use of sea water for water supply.