The Philippines-Vietnam Joint Research in the South China Sea, 1996-2007

Article excerpt

Byline: ANGEL C. ALCALA, Ph.D., National Academy of Science and Technology

PHILIPPINE President Fidel V. Ramos and Vietnam President Le Duc Anh signed a bilateral agreement to conduct a Joint Oceanographic and Marine Scientific Research Expedition in the South China Sea (JOMSRESCS) in 1994. The United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which was signed in 1982, came into force in the same year. The mandate for cooperation in the South China Sea was provided for under UNCLOS Part IX on enclosed and semi-enclosed seas, as complemented by Part XIII on marine scientific research and Part XIV on the development and transfer of technology.

The UNCLOS provided the international legal framework as well as the rationale for the JOMSRE-SCS. But more importantly, the JOMSRE-SCS should be viewed as a launch pad for "the course towards cooperative management of all aspects in regard to maritime security in the South China Sea that must include, as the governance mechanism develops further, the safety and security of navigation, the prevention and control of oil pollution, and Search and Rescue...," according to Ambassador Alberto A. Encomienda, Assistant Secretary, Office of Legal Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs. We must thank the two Southeast Asian leaders, Fidel V. Ramos and Le Duc Anh, for their grand vision to secure the future of the South China Sea.

During the 11-year period 1996-2007, four JOMSRE expeditions to study the marine biology, marine geology, marine chemistry and oceanography of the South China Sea were conducted by scientists of the Philippines and Vietnam. Other participants in these expeditions were representatives of other ASEAN countries in keeping with the pertinent provisions of the UNCLOS.

The purpose of this brief paper is to report on the major findings of JOMSRE-SCS 1, III, and IV on the marine biodiversity of the South China Sea, with special reference to the Spratlys, about which several persons have commented in the press during the past few weeks. This paper deals only with the findings on marine biodiversity during the past 11 years (1996-2007). It is based on the presentations during the "Conference on the Results of the Joint Oceanographic and Marine Scientific Research Expedition in the South China Sea (JOMSRESCS)" held in Ha Long City, Vietnam on March 26-27, 2008. The findings on physical and chemical oceanography, marine geology, eco-toxicology and plankton will be reported at a later time.

The venue of the conference was a hotel in Ha Long City, Vietnam's Heritage Site and one of the famous tourist destinations of Southeast Asia. The conference was participated in by about 50 government officials and marine scientists of both countries.

The Ha Long conference highlighted the unique environmental characteristics of the South China Sea and the present condition of its biological resources, particularly those in the Spratlys. The primary marine ecosystem in the Spratlys is the coral reef represented by emergent coralline islands, shoals and atolls distributed in a wide expanse of ocean environment with varying depths, thus providing a variety of microhabitats for a high diversity of marine organisms. The primary basis for natural productivity in the study area is photosynthesis by plant plankton and zooxanthellae in corals. …