[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo makes a remark at the start of the Coral Triangle Initiative Summit held at Grand Kawanua Convention Center in Manado, Indonesia. MANADO, Indonesia

MANADO, INDONESIA, MAY 16, 2009 (STAR) Leaders from six nations agreed yesterday to work jointly to save Southeast Asia’s massive Coral Triangle, considered the world’s richest underwater wilderness.

Leaders of the Philippines, East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands signed proposals to expand maritime sanctuaries and no-fishing zones during the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food (CTI-CFF) Security Leaders’ Summit held at the Grand Kawanua Convention Center in Manado, Indonesia.

The Coral Triangle Initiative calls for stronger international cooperation to combat illegal fishing and environmental destruction in an area half the size of the United States and home to half the world’s coral reefs.

“The Coral Triangle is a globally recognized treasure. It is unique, there is nothing like it on Earth,” Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said of the region, which has been compared to the Amazon rainforest for its biodiversity.

President Arroyo called on countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific to ensure the protection of the endangered Coral Triangle.

According to her, at a time when the world seems mired in bad news, “the CTI is genuine good news.”

“Here we have nations coming together in common purpose to protect a vital segment of our common global environment,” she said.

“The Coral Triangle is potentially the world’s most important refuge for marine life – but only if we do our part to keep it in good health,” Mrs. Arroyo said. “For too long, we have let our environment become degraded, our natural resources diminished, our social contract with nature destroyed.”

“It is time to rebalance our approach: develop a strong economy, provide full employment and maintain the sacred relationship of human beings to Mother Earth,” she said.

Scientists say a combination of climate change, over-fishing and pollution is destroying ecosystems in the Triangle, which is a vital source of food for millions of people and a nursery for maritime life from turtles to tuna.

Under the initiative, the littoral countries agreed to expand protected ocean reserves by millions of hectares and establish joint strategies for identifying key ecosystems and species for conservation.

The initiative calls for fishing to be banned from 20 percent of each major coastal habitat in the Triangle such as coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass areas, but set no specific time target.

It also sets targets ranging between 2012 and 2020 for the designation and establishment of “priority seascape” marine reserves and stronger legislation and planning to curb over-fishing and protect threatened species.

The agreement also calls for the establishment within four years of a plan to help coastal and small island ecosystems adapt to consequences of climate change such as rising sea levels, warming waters and increases in acidity.

Indonesia – a massive archipelago of 17,000 islands – said it would set aside 20 million hectares (49.4 million acres) of maritime conservation parks by 2020, up from 13.4 million currently.

The overall plan, however, contained no solid combined target on the protected areas.

Environmental groups praised the agreement as a rare example of high-level leaders backing an ambitious conservation plan.

“In 30 years of conservation work, I have never seen anything like this: six leaders signing a commitment to protect their marine resources for the well-being of their citizens and future generations,” Conservation International head Peter Seligmann said in a statement.

A report by environmental group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) this week said climate change could wipe out the Coral Triangle by century’s end if nations do not commit to deep cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

The death of the reefs could leave more than 100 million people without livelihoods, triggering destabilizing mass migrations to cities and neighboring countries, it said.

A new round of international climate change talks to replace the Kyoto Protocol will take in the Danish capital Copenhagen in December. – Paolo Romero, AFP

Government eyes expansion of high-risk areas for seamen By Mayen Jaymalin Updated May 16, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines – Filipino seafarers who will be passing through the pirate-infested areas around Somalia may soon receive additional compensation.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said the Philippine government is extending identified “high-risk” areas beyond the Gulf of Aden to provide better protection for Filipino seafarers.

“The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) will be coming out with a resolution identifying new high-risk areas to ensure the welfare of our seafarers,” Roque said in an interview.

POEA chief Jennifer Manalili said members of the agency’s governing board already met to discuss the approval of the new resolution.

“We are now in the process of identifying the exact coordinates and as soon as we have identified the areas we will be coming out with the resolution,” Manalili disclosed.

The POEA previously passed a resolution declaring the areas within the Gulf of Aden as a high-risk area or destination where Filipino seafarers face possible attack by pirates.

Under the POEA rules, Filipino seafarers on board foreign vessels that will pass the high-risk areas are entitled to additional compensation.

Filipino seafarers who feel threatened passing the Gulf of Aden have the option to disembark.

“At this time, we really have to extend the high-risk areas because the Somali pirates are now operating beyond the Gulf of Aden,” Manalili explained.

Also yesterday, Roque reported that the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has rejected an appeal of some foreign shipping companies to cut the monthly pay of Filipino seafarers.

Roque noted that three foreign shipping companies employing 5,000 Filipino seafarers asked DOLE to allow reduction in pay of the seamen due to the financial crisis.

The labor chief noted that the three agencies are operating 400 vessels, 100 of which are now on lay up due to lack of cargo.

“We agreed not to give overtime pay for those seafarers manning the vessels that are now on lay up, but we cannot allow reduction in pay for those that are operating normally,” Roque said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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