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Benham  trip to push through next week
The government is all set to embark on another exploratory trip to the 13-million-hectare Benham Rise next week, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said yesterday.
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Benham trip to push through next week

Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - April 29, 2017 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines -  The government is all set to embark on another exploratory trip to the 13-million-hectare Benham Rise next week, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said yesterday.

Piñol said President Duterte gave the green light for the group of scientists and government officials to proceed with the trip on May 5 to 7 to check the area’s potential as a food source.

“He has given his clearance to the planned voyage of the DA (Department of Agriculture). He told me to go ahead and discover what could be done to protect the area,” Piñol said.

The group was originally slated to visit Benham Rise during the Holy Week but deferred the plan due to a weather disturbance in the Pacific.

Piñol would lead the exploration along with officials and scientists from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

A government-owned oceanographic research vessel will lead the group to a shallow portion of Benham Rise.

At least four more smaller DA-BFAR vessels and about a dozen fiber glass fishing boats to be manned by Filipino fishermen will also join the exploratory trip.

“The expedition will set sail from Infanta, Quezon where 38-footer fiberglass fishing boats will be awarded to poor Filipino fisherfolks who will then join the flotilla bound for Benham Rise,” Piñol said.

“BFAR officials and scientists will also study whether it is viable to set up floating structures to serve as rest and refuge area for fishermen and scientists,” he added.

Last year, BFAR personnel and marine conservation group Oceana Philippines explored Benham Rise and another part of the area called Benham Bank.

Located off the provinces of Aurora and Isabela, the undersea region east of Luzon was duly recognized by the United Nations in 2012 as the newest Philippine territory under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Scientists and environmentalists declared the Benham Rise as a rich fishing ground that could sustain the country’s marine needs if properly protected and managed.

Benham Bank, the shallowest portion of the unexplored seamount, is one of the traditional fishing grounds of coastal dwellers on the northeastern coast of Luzon.

Scientists studied the underwater terrain of Benham Bank covering 12 research stations and discovered different soft and hard corals, fish, algae and sponges.

Based on oceanographic explorations, there are more than 50 species of fish and tiered plate corals in Benham Bank.

The area is part of the spawning grounds for the Pacific bluefin tuna, which are known to swim to the US and Mexico but come back to spawn in the Western Pacific, including Benham Rise.

EMMANUEL PIñOL
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