Filipino scientists, fishermen to sail to Benham Rise this week

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 10 2017 10:35 AM

This photo was taken during a marine expedition at Benham Rise last May 26, 2016. Branching corals contribute to the complexity of the reef. Oceana Philippines

MANILA - Filipino scientists and fishermen will sail to Benham Rise this week to explore the potential of the area as a food source, Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol said Monday.

The team will be composed of a research vessel and two smaller patrol vessels from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and 10 fishing boats, Piñol said in a Facebook post.

They will sail to a shallow portion of Benham Rise to check for fish, Piñol said.

"The 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 said.

Manila said it was considering renaming Benham Rise to Philippine Rise to reinforce its claim on the undersea plateau, which the United Nations in 2012 declared as part of the Philippines' extended continental shelf.

Chinese ships were reported to have sailed in the Benham Rise area from November to January, causing concern in the defense establishment.

There had been limited research on the area, but an expedition last year found pristine corals, diverse marine life and untapped gas reserves in the area.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources also told senators in a legislative hearing last month that the area also held methane gas hydrates.