Why Oceanography?

Manila Bulletin, June 8, 2008 | Go to article overview

Why Oceanography?


Vietnam operates the Institute of Oceanography at Nha Trang, which was established by the French in 1922. The Institute currently consists of 19 departments and has a research and administrative staff of about 120 scientists and technical personnel supported by the Vietnam national budget. A newer and smaller marine institute dealing primarily with marine resources has been established in Haiphong, northern Vietnam. Both institutes are part of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, which is organized differently from the National Academy of Science and Technology of the Philippines. Several of the senior Institute scientists, who hold professorships in Vietnamese universities, specialize in various areas of marine biology and oceanography. The present director is a Russian-trained oceanographer specializing in ocean water dynamics and holds a professorial academic rank. The Nha Trang Institute of Oceanography has conducted oceanographic studies in the Gulf of Tonkin, Gulf of Thailand, and the South China Sea. Its main focus is on ocean dynamics. Aside from its national program of research, it has international linkages with several maritime nations, including the Philippines.

In the Philippines, only the Marine Science Institute of the University of the Philippines (Diliman) offers a reasonably respectable program in oceanography, though it is limited in scope compared to that of the Vietnam Institute of Oceanography. The Mindanao State University has oceanographers on its faculty, but its research productivity is low. Other universities in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao that are concerned with marine science specialize mainly in marine biology.

Marine biology studies in the Philippines date back to the 1950s and the 1960s, with the pioneering taxonomic studies of some faculty members at the University of the Philippines including Professor Francisco Nemenzo Sr. on hard corals, and Professor G.T. Velasquez and Professor Gavino C. Trono on marine algae. It was only when Professor Edgardo D. Gomez established the Marine Science Center (now the Marine Science Institute) at the University of the Philippines in 1974 that marine science, especially studies on corals and coral reefs, progressed rapidly so that by 1981 the Philippines was ready to sponsor the Fourth Coral Reef Symposium in Manila. Significant developments in the Visayas during the 1970s included the founding of the Silliman Marine Laboratory, which serves as the center for a new program on marine protected areas in the Central Visayas. The Marine Laboratory at the University of San Carlos, Cebu City also intensified its marine biology research program. In Mindanao, the Iligan Institute of Technology and Xavier University developed their marine science programs. It will be noted that a gap in the development of marine science exists in the southern and northern parts of Luzon. In these areas no university has successfully developed a marine science program.

During the decades after the 1970s, of all the academic institutions mentioned, only the University of the Philippines (Diliman) under the leadership of Professor Edgardo Gomez made substantial progress in enlarging and broadening its marine science program to include oceanography. This development, viewed from the point of view of coastal resource management, has proven to be prescient. Those involved in coastal and marine management now realize that knowledge in marine biology is not enough to ensure long-term sustainable development. The important role of oceanographic processes in ensuring the replenishment of coastal and marine resources must be part of marine resources management.

Delving into Philippine history, it may be noted that the marine sciences were neglected during the Spanish rule from 1521 to 1898. This is quite surprising because Spain was then a maritime country that was involved in world exploration and conquest. The Americans did not do much either. …

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