Asia Readies Particularly Sensitive Area Proposals


Published Jun 26, 2015 3:53 PM by Wendy Laursen

A project to identify potential sea areas in South East Asia which could be put forward for designation as Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs) is gaining traction with the holding of a second regional meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, this week.  

A PSSA is an area that needs special protection through the action by IMO because of its significance for recognized ecological, socio-economic or scientific attributes that make it vulnerable to damage by international shipping activities.

A PSSA can gain extra protection through global recognition and the adoption of associated protective measures, such as ship routing systems. States can propose areas to be avoided or set up shipping lanes so that the risk of collision is diminished.

One area being considered is the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, a World Heritage Site which lies in close proximity to international shipping routes in the Sulu Sea, located between the islands of the Philippines and North Borneo.

The Tubbataha Reefs area contains roughly 10,000 hectares of coral reef, and are a major component of the Coral Triangle – the global centre of marine biodiversity. Since the 1980s, marine scientific research has revealed that the area hosts 360 species of corals representing 80 out of the 111 genera known in the world, over 600 species of fish, 12 species of sharks, 13 species of dolphins and whales and 100 species of birds.

Six seabird species have breeding grounds on two islets in the park. Its sandbanks are also nesting grounds of endangered hawksbill and green sea turtles. The area also hosts the Reef Manta Ray, a species listed as "vulnerable" in the IUCN Red List. In total, 181 species of marine organisms found in the park are listed as threatened or near threatened by the IUCN.

Available data from international sources indicates that more than 900 ships of all types pass through the Sulu Sea and within 40 nautical miles of the park annually. Park rangers have documented marine pollution of various forms continually affecting the reefs. Oil spills and tar balls from passing ships have been observed, and marine debris ranging from plastic food wraps, to fishing lines, to abandoned cargo are collected by the rangers regularly.

These impacts from shipping are in addition to stresses such as foreign and local poachers, infestation of the crown-of-thorns starfish and climate change which is inducing changes in water temperature and acidity, resulting in coral bleaching events.

Other areas being considered are Pulau Kukup (Kukup Island) and Tanjung Piai (Cape Piai) National Parks at the southern tip of Peninsular Malaysia which are considered to need protection from increasing pressures associated with international shipping in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore.

IMO’s Ed Kleverlaan facilitated the meeting which was held under the auspices of a co-operation agreement between IMO and the Norwegian Development Cooperation Agency. The meeting was attended by around 20 participants from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.

PSSAs are historically designated by the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) as one of the main concerns is protection from oil spills. However, any accident could lead to pollution or damage including containers that could be hazardous or harmful to marine life. 

While the process of PSSA designation is undertaken by MEPC, any associated protective measures like ships routing are adopted by the IMO Maritime Safety Committee.  

The meeting this week follows another held last year, and submissions for Asian PSSAs are progressing. A timeframe for the PSSA proposals and adoption has not yet been made public.