The highly touted efforts to rehabilitate the world-famous Boracay Island take center stage as the Philippines hosts the 2018 East Asian Seas Congress in Iloilo City on November 27-30.

Organized by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Partnerships in Environmental Management of the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA), the four-day congress will bring together international organizations, experts and multi-sector stakeholders to exchange knowledge and build capacity towards sustainable management and use of marine resources, seas and oceans.

Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said a statement read by DENR Undersecretary Jonas R. Leones, the regional meeting is “very timely” as it comes just weeks after one of the country’s most popular resort islands was reopened to the general public following a six-month rehabilitation from environmental damage brought about by overdevelopment.

“We are honored to host this year’s East Asian Seas Congress given the importance that President Rodrigo Duterte has placed on the health of our seas and oceans, particularly with the rehabilitation of Boracay,” Cimatu said.

The triennial regional conference, Cimatu said, is as an “opportune time to strengthen partnerships in the region” through the sharing of initiatives and best practices on integrated coastal management (ICM) that will help manage and protect marine life and promote a blue economy.

“A blue economy does not only consider business revenues,” Cimatu pointed out. “More important, it considers how the proper use and care of marine resources can provide employment and food security to many people.”

According to Cimatu, the improved waters of Boracay will regenerate marine life and provide livelihood to its residents.

Aside from Cimatu, the environment ministers from 10 other PEMSEA member countries—Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, North Korea, Laos, South Korea, Singapore, Timor Leste and Vietnam—are expected to attend the conference.

This year’s theme is “25 Years of Partnerships for Healthy Oceans, People and Economies, Moving as One with the Global Ocean Agenda.”

Among others, the conference aims to further strengthen the implementation of the Sustainable Development Strategy for the Seas of East Asia at the regional, national and local levels, with focus on the Sustainable Development Goal No. 14, Life Below Water, which targets the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources, seas and oceans.

The highlight of this year’s congress will be the ministerial forum on “Perspectives on Ocean Leadership Issue from International/Regional Organizations,” which is expected to end with a Ministerial Declaration from 11 PEMSEA member nations.

The declaration will affirm the commitment of the participating ministers for the next three years to improve the management of the region’s shared oceans.

A plenary event called “Ocean Talk and Sea Exchange,” featuring presentations on various ocean issues, will be held on a daily basis during the entire conference. Each presentation will be followed by the Sea Exchange, a sharing of insights and perspectives of the topics discussed in the preceding talks.

There will also be an Environmental Exhibit where organizations will showcase their innovations and progress on various aspects of sustainable coastal and ocean management.

The Partnership Hubs will bring together PEMSEA partners and collaborating organizations to discuss best practices and identify alternative opportunities for investment, among others.

Another major activity is the 5th EAS Youth Forum to be attended by young leaders from all over East Asian region. This forum seeks to generate youth involvement in the implementation of ICM.

The PEMSEA Network of Local Governments will also hold its General Assembly and Annual Planning Meeting Workshop to identify common programs on research, curriculum and community service for the PEMSEA Network of Learning Center.

A field visit to Guimaras will cap the congress on the last day.

The congress is supported by the Global Environment Facility, United Nations Development Programme, and Iloilo provincial and city governments. #