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Managing Philippine islands’ biodiversity

THE Philippines, an archipelago of 7,107 islands and islet, remains as one of the 17 mega-diverse countries in the world.

Yet, it remains as among the world’s biodiversity hot spots underscoring that protection against the many threats to the country’s unique flora and fauna cannot be overemphasized, Theresa Mundita Lim, director of the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), says.

Here is why: A total of 148 species are on the list of threatened Philippine fauna, which include mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, found across the country.  Of these, 24 are in the “critically endangered” category, including all species listed in Appendix I and 28 under the “endangered” category. This include all species listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species; 85 are under the “vulnerable” category; and nine more are in the “other threatened species” category.

The Philippines, having been tagged as one of the world’s richest in terms of biodiversity, is fifth in the number of plant species and maintains 5 percent of the world’s flora. It has high species endemism, which covers at least 25 genera of plants and 49 percent of terrestrial wildlife.

The Philippines is also fourth in bird endemism and has about 3,214 fish species, with about 121 endemic and 76 threatened species, according to data released by the DENR-BMB.

Formerly known as the Protected Area and Wildlife Bureau, the bureau was renamed BMB, expanding the coverage of its mandate beyond the management of the country’s unique wildlife and their natural habitats to managing the country’s biological diversity.

 

‘Island Biodiversity’

THE BMB, along with Germany’s Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), on Thursday led the country’s celebration of the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDBD) to highlight its commitment as party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and other agreements that seek to protect the world’s ecosystems.

The United Nations has proclaimed May 22 of each year as IDBD to help increase the understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues.

IDBD is celebrated by 193 member-countries, including the Philippines.

The celebration, with the theme “Island Biodiversity,” held at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Rescue Center in Quezon City, was highlighted by the launching of the BMB coffee-table book, entitled Treasures of the Philippine Wild, awarding of the BMB-GIZ photo contest winners and the holding of the 2014 Youth Summer Camp.

An EcoWalk was also held around the park, during which biodiversity management, anchored on learning more about it and taking time to share it with the family, was encouraged to help ease the pressure of biodiversity loss.

 

‘Very blessed’

BERTHOLD SCHIRM of GIZ sums up the country’s richness in terms of biodiversity by saying that the Philippines is “very blessed.”

“It is unbelievable. You have much more than in Germany. However, those species in the Philippines, and globally, are under threat.”

He said the extinction of important species is happening around the globe.

“These species are not reduced, but lost, forever,” he added.

In the Philippines, Schirm said, there is hope, if ecosystems are managed in an effective way.

He said there is a need for all stakeholders to help protect the country’s rich biodiversity by ensuring that “all hands are on deck” in defense of ecosystems around the world.

Schirm he believes that there is a need for more investment for the protection of ecosystems through education.

The youth, he said, could play a very important role in preventing habitat loss, listed as No.1 reason for the rapid rate of biodiversity loss.

This year’s global celebration highlights the need to protect island biodiversity, of which the country has a lot to lose, being an archipelago.

 

Islands as repositories of biodiversity

ACCORDING to Lim, islands are repositories of species’ richness and endemism.

“Roughly 20 percent of all the world’s vascular plant diversity and 15 percent of all the world’s mammals, birds and amphibians are found only on islands,” she said.

Lim said that around one-third of all the world’s threatened mammals, birds and amphibians are found only on islands.

“Species endemic to island biodiversity hot spots include one-fifth of the world’s threatened amphibian fauna; one-fourth of the world’s threatened mammals; and more than one-third of all the threatened birds in the world.”

According to Lim, protecting island biodiversity is protecting its unique wildlife and flora.

Quoting Dr. Terry Gosliner, curator at the California Academy of Sciences, she said: “The Philippines’s complex geological history made it a gold mine of new life forms. This is the place where the action is….”

 

Newly discovered species

THERE are newly discovered species found only in the Philippines, which adds more reason why its islands, no matter how small, should be protected.

Among these are the purple crab that is found only in small, lowland forest ecosystems in Palawan; the Varanus bitatawa, a fruit-eating monitor lizard; the deepsea swell shark; the bleeding-heart pigeon; and the Dinagat cloud rat found only on Dinagat Island.

Lim said that to the people inhabiting the islands, biodiversity translates into a source of pride and income through ecotourism, and food security and sustenance, noting that biodiversity sustains lives and the lives of other species with which human share the place they live in called Earth.

 

Threats to biodiversity

IN the Philippines, as well as in other countries, logging and land conversion, destructive fishing, encroachment of protected areas and pollution caused by siltation, and unmanaged waste that lead to habitat destruction are threats to biodiversity.

Also, Lim said, human pressure on the environment, such as the unsustainable use of natural resources at a rate much faster than they can be replenished—such as overfishing, overharvesting of non-timber products—is another factor.

Also a serious threat to biodiversity is poaching and illegal-wildlife trade that continues to haunt the Philippines.

Last, biological pollution through the introduction of invasive alien species or species that don’t naturally occur in a specific area and exotic species, which could be invasive and become pest or cause diseases, usually cause the extinction of endemic species.

 

Protection of Philippine biodiversity

THE BMB, which is the primary agency responsible for the protection of the country’s biodiversity, promotes the designation of certain areas as protected areas (PAs) or natural parks (NPs) under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (Nipas) Act of 1992. The law provides for the conservation and protection of wildlife resources and their habitat.

To date, Lim said there are 240 declared protected areas but only 115 of them are backed by presidential proclamation or act of Congress.

The BMB is currently assessing how many of these declared PAs and NPs have active Protected Areas Management Board, the policy-making body tasked to manage these uniquely important land and water bodies.

Also, Lim noted that the Philippines is a signatory to international agreements and conventions, such as CITES, which was established to prevent international trade from threatening species with extinction; and CBD, which aims for the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.

It is also a signatory to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and Convention on Migratory Species. The Ramsar Convention provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands, while the Convention on Migratory Species, the only global and UN-based intergovernmental organization, is established exclusively for the conservation and management of migratory species.

She said that information, education and communication are important components of the campaign to protect the country’s biodiversity.

“That is why the DENR continues to engage people in the communities and partner with various local governments and the private sector for the protection of the country’s environment, and promote sustainable use of our natural resources,” she added.

The official was referring to the Community-Based Forest Management Agreements and Community-based Coastal and Marine Resource Management and the “Adopt-a-River/Estero” programs.

With the 7,107 islands and islets to protect against destructive human activities, Lim said the government would need all the help it can get.

But she said that anyone can help protect and conserve the country’s biodiversity through his or her own little way by planting trees; participating in river-rehabilitation efforts; practicing proper solid-waste management; conserving energy, paper and fuel; boycotting wildlife products; or simply turning off the lights and recycling; or better yet stopping the use of plastic bags.

 

 

Graphics design courtesy of Director Theresa Mundita Lim/Biodiversity Management Bureau

 

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