MANILA, Philippines – Researchers from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), University of the Philippines, and Xavier University have began their voyage to Benham Rise or Benham Plateau aboard BFAR’s research vessel M/V DA-BFAR. The Benham Science Team will conduct survey of the 13-million hectare undersea land mass in the northeastern tip of Aurora Province.
The announcement have been made by UP on its website. Its campuses in Baguio, Diliman, Los Banos, and Mindanao have sent delegates to the said expedition, while students from Ateneo de Manila University and UP Diliman’s Marine Science Institute (MSI) also joined as volunteers.
For starters, the United Nations awarded the claim of Benham Rise to Republic of the Philippines two years ago, after it became the only country to claim the aforementioned territory.
The approval came three years after the Philippines have filed a claim and defended it before the UN commission. The country has sovereignty to over 135,506 square kilometers of the Benham Plateau Extended Continental Shelf.
Furthermore, the National Mapping and Resources Information Authority (NAMRIA) administrator Peter Tiangco called on the Department of Energy (DOE) to explore the area for resources such as manganese, hydrate, and natural gas.
Behnam Rise is named after its discoverer, Admiral Andrew Ellicot Kennedy Benham. The continental shelf’s highest points are 35 meters below the sea level.
In the same year, Department of Energy Undersecretary Jose M. Layug, Jr. said that it might tap seismic survey firms to help identify potential natural mineral reserves (steel-producing minerals and natural gas) in the new territory.
The area is quite larger than the island of 10.5-million hectare Luzon and has largely been unexplored. The crew is expected to be hard at work for at least two weeks.
It is in this context that the all-Filipino cruise led by Dr. Hildie Nacorda of MSI will be conducting the surveys. MSI did the first oceanographic survey of Benham Rise right after the UN gave the green signal of the claim, said UP. “Along with foreign research partners and a representative from the Philippine Navy, MSI scientists aboard a Scripps Institution of Oceanography-operated research vessel investigated the effects of Pacific Ocean currents on the productivity of the seas in the eastern Luzon area.”
While the Philippines was able to successfully claim Benham Plateau in 2012 under United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS,) the same convention has yet to resolved any of the several territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.