The Western Philippines University (WPU) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) hosted the 4th International Conference on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, from September 11 to 13, 2023. The conference aimed to foster dialogue and collaboration among stakeholders to address the challenges and opportunities in the WPS, which is a vital marine ecosystem and a source of livelihood for millions of Filipinos.
The theme of the conference was “Nurturing people and environment, strengthening governance for a better West Philippine Sea.” The conference featured keynote speeches, panel discussions, poster presentations, and field visits on topics such as marine biodiversity conservation, fisheries management, coastal community development, maritime security, and international law.
USAID Mission Director Ryan Washburn joined local government and academia representatives to discuss ideas and applications to help advance the sustainable use of WPS.
He said that USAID is committed to supporting the Philippines in protecting its marine resources and enhancing its resilience to climate change. He also highlighted some of the USAID-funded initiatives in the WPS, such as the Ecosystems Improved for Sustainable Fisheries (ECOFISH) project, which aims to improve the management of 1.2 million hectares of marine waters in eight key biodiversity areas, and the Fish Right project, which seeks to increase fish biomass and improve food security in the Visayan Sea, South Negros, and Calamianes Island Group.
The conference also served as a platform for sharing best practices and lessons learned from various partners and stakeholders. One of the partners was the University of Rhode Island (URI), which has been collaborating with WPU and other local institutions to implement the USAID-funded Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) program. The PEER program supports research projects that address development challenges and contribute to policy formulation. One of the PEER projects in the WPS is led by Dr. Lota Creencia, a professor at WPU, who is studying the socio-economic impacts of marine protected areas (MPAs) on coastal communities.
Another partner was the PATH Foundation Philippines Inc. (PFPI), which has been working with WPU and other local organizations to promote integrated population, health, and environment (PHE) approaches in the WPS. PHE approaches recognize the interconnections between human well-being, environmental health, and economic development.
PFPI has been implementing the USAID-supported Integrated Natural Resources Environmental Management Project (INREMP), which aims to reduce forest degradation, enhance biodiversity conservation, and improve livelihoods in four priority watersheds.
The conference concluded with a call for action to strengthen cooperation and coordination among different sectors and stakeholders to promote the well-being of the WPS and the communities that depend on its ecosystems. The conference organizers expressed their hope that the conference will propel income generation and food security initiatives and policies and identify areas for cooperation to address the emerging issues and challenges in the WPS.