Filipinos chart new territory, collect data on Benham Rise
Camille Diola (The Philippine Star) - June 2, 2014 - 12:25pm

MANILA, Philippines — Filipino scientists from the University of the Philippines (UP) and specialist divers from Xavier University and Ateneo de Manila University completed the first phase of exploration of Benham Rise, a new Philippine territory east of Luzon island.

Marine scientist Cesar Villanoy, leader of Benham Rise Program, said that scientists who set out for the research cruise earlier this month were the first humans to explore the undersea plateau believed to be containing rich gas deposits and minerals.

"We would like to think na kami ang naunang mag-touch ng bottom ng Benham ... We were getting to see things that no human has ever seen before," Villanoy said in an interview on Solar's last week.

Members of the program explored some of "shallowest" parts of Benham Rise at 120 to 170 feet beneath the surface, with divers staying at the bottom for a maximum of five minutes.

"The currents were very strong, so we had safety lines for the divers. We had to get to the bottom where the currents slow down a bit," Villanoy said, explaining some of the activities during the two-week expedition.

Team leader Hildie Nacorda, an oceanographer from UP Los Baños, said that researchers onboard the vessel of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources were able to document some of the species spotted in the area as well as collect specimens that can aid further research and exploration.

The activity was the first-ever benthic survey of the undersea area, granted to the Philippines by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to the Philippines in 2012.

Also read: Scientists explore new Philippine territory bigger than Luzon

"We came without knowing what we [would] find. It's a 50-50 chance we would be diving because we did not know what depth we will land onto. We didn't know how shallow was shallow, or how deep was deep," Nacorda said in the same show.

Among the species they spotted were a small butanding or whale shark, a young white tip shark, tuna, puffer fish,groupers, snapper representatives and surgeon fish.

Nacorda said the scientists also collected samples of sea life such as corals and algae and measured temperature, salinity, oxygen levels and water samples to show on Benham Rise's productivity.

"We collected everything we could find," Nacorda added.


Largely unknown

UP Institute of Geological Sciences' Mario Aurelio, part of the committee that presented the Philippines' entitlement on Benham Rise before the UN in 2000, admitted that despite the recent venture, more resources and funding are needed to know how the new territory will benefit the country.

"There is very little we know at the moment," Aurelio said in the same program.

"[There are] reported occurrences of manganese nodules, an important metallic mineral used in the steel industry. There have been reports beforehand that there's a possibility of presence of gas, but there's very little we know so far as these natural deposits are concerned. We have to go deeper," he explained.

He said independent survey contractors may be tapped to undertake a deep-sea exploration of the undersea plateau and conduct quantitative assessments of its bottom.

"It's a very expensive venture, actually. You'll need ships, vessels and technology which are very expensive. They need to be planned properly and budgeted ... We need remotely operated vehicles to be able to go down deeper and deeper," Aurelio said.

He said foreign grants and the help of the oil industry are welcome as no local survey company may be able to chart the new waters.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with