The Philippines is ending its two-year chairmanship of the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF) with a call for nations within one of the world’s biggest and most important marine regions to scale up efforts to achieve widespread impact.

“Moving forward, we must shift our focus on actions that can really deliver higher level of outcomes such as poverty reduction and improved food security,” Undersecretary Jonas Leones of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said in his opening remarks during the 14th CTI-CFF Senior Officials Meeting in Makati City.

The two-day meeting is one of the culminating activities for the Philippine chairmanship of CTI-CFF, a multilateral partnership of six countries working together to sustain extraordinary marine and coastal resources by addressing crucial issues, such as food security, climate change and marine biodiversity.

The six countries are Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste and the Philippines, collectively known as Coral Triangle 6 or CT6.

Leones, chair of the CTI-CFF Committee of Senior Officials, said the chairmanship of the Philippines for the past two years was not easy because it has been challenged with a number of difficulties that caused a small hiccup in the organization.

The region, he said, also suffered from natural disasters that have cost lives and economic losses among CT6 nations, further aggravating what has already been a difficult sector to manage.

“Our coastal communities which have always relied on the richness of our seas remain highly vulnerable to an ever changing environment, which is why there is a need to develop programs and initiatives that are more adaptive and sustainable,” Leones said.

Leones, however, believed the region has already moved on from “difficult times” and was now “eager to keep on working to achieve our common goals.”

But before the CT6 adopts a new regional plan of action, Leones said working groups, such as coordination mechanism, monitoring and evaluation, must gain grounds.

He said this is to make sure “everything is in place and all we have to do is to implement what will be decided upon by the CTI-CFF.”

Leones also shared some of the efforts done by the Philippines to protect its coastal and marine resources, including its “bold and decisive moves” in connection with the world-famous Boracay Island.

He said the six-month closure of Boracay served as an eye opener for local government units, coastal communities and national agencies on the effects of unsustainable tourism practices.

“Moreover, this initiative has rippled through all of our provinces and municipalities, triggering an increased environmental consciousness to those living along the country’s coastline,” Leones added.

The DENR official said the country also expanded the coverage of the National Integrated Protected Area System or the NIPAS that established and reinforced additional terrestrial and coastal protected areas spread across the country.

He also cited the signing of Presidential Proclamation 489 declaring a portion of the Philippine Rise, more commonly known as Benham Rise, as a resource reserve.

The underwater region located off Luzon was found to harbor significantly large contiguous coral reefs in pristine condition, prompting the Convention of Biological Diversity to declare it as an “ecologically and biologically significant area.”

Leones said the Boracay rehabilitation, expansion of NIPAS coverage, protection of Philippine Rise and other coastal and marine conservation and protection activities signify the country’s continued commitment to international agreements, such as the CTI-CFF.

“Being an archipelagic country, we cannot emphasize further how important it is for our government to prioritize our seas,” Leones said. “The country recognizes the interconnectedness of our neighbor countries’ activities and management initiatives, which is why we continue to collaborate and strengthen our ties with existing regional cooperation.”

Leones assured that the Philippines, as a member of these regional cooperations, “shall give its utmost service and response to the call of other nations with regard to preserving our natural resources.” ###