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The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
January, 1998 Vol. 1 No.1

IYO: A Chance to Make a Difference








By the Over Seas Editors

1998 is a doubly special year for the Philippines: Besides celebrating their 100th year as a sovereign people, the nation will also observe this year the International Year of the Ocean (IYO), a global event of great local significance in a country where the coastline stretches to more than 18,000 km. On the calendar are conferences, concerts, cleanup drives, community arts projects, exhibits, all designed to heighten public awareness of ocean-related issues.

The United Nations General Assembly, which in 1994 adopted the proposal to declare 1998 as the IYO, calls this special year "a window of opportunity", that is, a chance for us to reverse the seemingly unstoppable wave of destruction that is now sweeping our seas. The Coastal Resource Management Project (CRMP) is working with the National Committee on Marine Sciences (NCMS), the Philippine focal point for UNESCO, to spearhead the country’s participation in the IYO. In a campaign that kicks off on February 15, CRMP and NCMS are seeking to focus public attention on a problem that has grown exponentially in the last 10 years.

A message of concern
For a long time, people had the mistaken notion that the sea was an inexhaustible source of bounty. In recent years, as scientific evidence of the decline of fisheries began to mount, it became more and more apparent that the world was fast losing precious marine resources to overfishing and the destruction of marine habitats.

The idea of the finiteness of our ocean has been slow to stir our individual and collective consciousness, however. Even now, as the problems of diminishing fish catch and climate change begin to hit home, we still cannot comprehend its full implications. We only have a glimpse of our losses: In the Philippines, overfishing of small pelagic and demersal fishes -- up to 3 times that required for optimal effort to produce a "sustainable yield" -- is resulting in an estimated loss in catch of more than US$400 million per year. About 70% of the country’s more than 20,000 sq km of coral reefs are considered to be in poor or fair condition, and only 5% are in excellent condition. Worldwide, populations of some shark species have sunk about 80% in the last decade as, each year, these magnificent creatures are killed by the tens of millions. The bluefin tuna, an Atlantic Ocean species, is now so rare a single fish can fetch no lower than $80,000 at the auction market in Japan.

And that, so to speak, barely touches the surface of what Time magazine has called "the fish crisis."

Getting the message through
The mere fact that there is an IYO is already a clear manifestation of the global community’s growing concern for our ocean. But such concern has been largely a worrying -- perhaps even defeated -- kind of acceptance: "Too bad, but what can we do about it?"

Plenty, and this is the most important message of the IYO. Says CRMP in an official statement, "The IYO’s success can only really be measured in terms of how much of the public’s concern is translated into tangible steps toward a cleaner, healthier ocean."

Calling its campaign "Colors of the Sea," CRMP is making full use of electronic media and information technology as well as traditional marketing techniques with "touchy-feely" appeal to get its message to as wide an audience as possible. The CRMP website,, will play a crucial role in disseminating information about IYO activities in the Philippines. This ocean-conscious virtual world hosts, in addition to Over Seas, interactive pages containing the IYO calendar of activities, a discussion board, a "hotline" for questions about coastal resource management in the Philippines, links to other ocean-related websites, a photo gallery, and other features in an informative mix of text, graphics, video and sounds.

More real, live action happens in the real world, of course. The Philippine observance of the IYO officially begins on February 15, when CRMP opens its "Colors of the Sea" exhibit at SM-Cebu City. Featuring colorful undersea photographs, real whale bones and an interactive booth where people can watch video shows and take part in discussions about ocean issues, the exhibit promises both entertainment and educational value. Here also, CRMP will launch the I-Love-the-Ocean Movement among individuals, especially the youth, who are willing and able to contribute time and effort to the ocean’s cause.

From Cebu, the campaign is expected to gradually spread to other places, gaining momentum as the Blue Tapestry, a community arts project to be undertaken with the country’s more than 800 coastal municipalities, goes onstream. Like other projects of its kind, the Blue Tapestry aims to bring people together to discuss and express their individual and common concern for the ocean. CRMP’s target is to get all Philippine coastal municipalities to contribute a block each to the project. In September, the blocks will be tied together end to end to create one long tapestry that promises not only symbolic and visual appeal but also a practical means to get people to focus, even if only for a day, on finding ways to help save our beleaguered seas. If CRMP succeeds in getting all coastal municipalities to participate, the Blue Tapestry will stretch to more than 2,400 feet, a kaleidoscope of art pieces reflective of both the diversity and oneness of the thousands of people who will have contributed to its making.

The campaign goes on national stage in October. CRMP is firming up plans to put the Blue Tapestry on exhibit at the Philippine Expo in Clark, Pampanga. Conferences, concerts, painting contests, radio and TV specials and other special events featuring big names in the local and international scenes are also being considered. The whole of point of the IYO, after all, is to get people to sit up, listen and take concrete steps to make our seas cleaner and healthier.

Everybody’s job
And this is the biggest challenge of all: How to ensure that public interest in ocean-related concerns does not wane when the IYO is over. This is why the entire Philippine IYO campaign is designed to create, or at least encourage, behavioral change. Cooperation is key to its success: working closely in this campaign are the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the Department of Interior and Local Government, local government units, the fishers themselves, and their partners in the private sector, the academe (notably the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, Silliman University, and the Smithsonian Institution) and various NGO groups.

IYO is just a first step, a mighty shake that could provide us and our government the jolt we need to confront the crisis we ourselves have created. Its message should ring loud and clear: After all is said and done, the worldwide effort to protect the marine environment could only really succeed if we -- each one and all of us -- practice proper waste disposal and take responsibility for what happens to our seas. Our trouble is not ignorance. Our problem is inaction, and the only way to solve it is to begin doing something. Like right now. Reported by Ruth Mercado, Cebu City


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