Errol Abada Gatumbato

The 2012 Biodiversity Day


Last May 22, the whole world commemorated the International Biodiversity Day. In the Philippines, several institutions, led by the Protected Areas Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, initiated several activities to highlight the importance of biodiversity. However, the celebration of Biodiversity Day in the country was overshadowed by unfolding events in the impeachment proceeding of Chief Justice Renato Corona and the finale of the American Idol, where half-Filipina Jessica Sanchez was vying for the top slot, not to mention the sensation brought by the concert of Lady Gaga in Manila.

The theme of this year’s Biodiversity Day focused on the conservation of the ocean, because like other ecosystems, our seas are also facing numerous environmental issues, from pollution, destructive and over fishing, and the threatening of numerous species found therein, among others.  It is quite unfortunate that while we were observing the Biodiversity Day last week, several news organizations came out with reports regarding the open selling of marine turtles’ meat in Cebu. Another report further claimed that about P5 million worth of assorted marine species, including the horned helmet shells and turtle carapace, were confiscated in a shipment, also in Cebu.

The annual observance of the Biodiversity Day is very much important, particularly in the Philippines, because of our diverse endemic flora and fauna that could not be found elsewhere in the world.  Our country is known as one of the 18 mega diverse countries of the world since it is hosting about 70 to 80% of the world’s flora and fauna.  It is also amazing to note that the Philippines harbors more diverse life forms than any country on a per hectare basis. The following statistics provided by the PAWB simply shows the significance of our country’s biodiversity:

  • More than 52,177 described species in the Philippines, more than half are only found here, but 491 of these are already threatened;
  • More than 1,130 terrestrial wildlife have been recorded, half of these are endemic and 128 are threatened;
  • The Philippines is one of the most important centers of amphibians (101 species) and reptiles (258 species) in Southeast Asia, accounting to at least 68% endemic species;
  • There are 576 species of birds in the entire country, of which 195 are endemic and 226 others with restricted range, making the Philippines the 4th leading country in the world in bird endemism;
  • The Philippines has the greatest concentration of terrestrial mammalian diversity in the world, but it is also ranked 8th among the most threatened. There are 174 indigenous mammals are recorded in the Philippines, 111 of these species are endemic;
  • The rate of discovering new species in the country is one of the highest in the world, with a total of 36 new species of herpetofauna discovered in the last 10 years.

Many of these species, however, are severely threatened and a number of them may soon be declared extinct in the wild if no proper and effective measures are implemented.  Habitat destruction and over exploitation are main factors why several of our species have been declared as threatened species by both the IUCN-World Conservation and the DENR.  Some wildlife species are being hunted for food, like the marine turtles, deer, wild pigs and some bird species, while several other species are used as pets, including snakes and crocodiles. The commemoration of Biodiversity Day is an attempt to remind us the need to protect and conserve our wildlife species from just becoming things of the past.

May 31, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Coastal and Marine Ecosystems, Conservation Events, Species Conservation | Leave a comment

Wetlands of international importance in Negros Occidental


Waterbirds in Pulupandan, Negros Occidental. Godfrey Jakosalem Photo*

The recent Asian Waterbird Census in Negros Occidental jointly conducted by the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc., Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation, Inc., Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Provincial Environment and Management Office affirmed the province’s importance in terms of biodiversity conservation in global scale. The findings of the survey may also boost the potential of Negros Occidental as an important birding site in the Philippines.

Lisa Paguntalan, PBCFI Director for Field Operations and one of the members of the survey team disclosed that migratory bird species are abundant in wetlands and coastline areas of Pulupandan, San Enrique, Pontevedra and Ilog municipalities and Kabankalan City. The variety and number of species found in these areas are good enough to propose their declaration as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.

Migratory birds in San Enrique, Negros Occidental. Godfrey Jakosalem Photo*

In Pulupandan, the survey team recorded a total of 38 waterbird species comprising of 2,851 individuals. This site accounts the highest number and population of duck species among the areas covered by the survey. Among the species recorded in this site were Black-winged stilts, Egrets and Whistling duck. The endemic Philippine duck has been noted also in Pulupandan wetlands. In San Enrique-Pontevedra wetlands, some 37 waterbird species involving 10,939 individuals were counted by the survey team. Thirty two species in these sites are migratory birds. Species identified in San Enrique-Pontevedra wetlands included Asiatic dowitcher, Chinese egret, Eurasian curlew, Far eastern curlew and Black-tailed godwits.

On the other hand, the survey in Kabankalan-Ilog wetlands recorded a total of 50 waterbird species of which 34 are migratory birds. The individual species count in these wetlands reached about 13,764.  Some species identified in these sites are similar with the species discovered by the survey team in San Enrique-Pontevedra wetlands.

Paguntalan, an ornithologist by profession, said the recent waterbird census in Negros Occidental yielded some interesting scientific notes and facts. She claimed the survey recorded the Little stint (Calidris minuta), which was only recorded in the country in 1903 and it was the first record of the species in Negros since 1888. The survey also resulted to the 4th record of Caspian tern in the Philippines and so far the highest number of individuals recorded. The 4th record in the Philippines and second record in Negros of Sanderling (Calidris alba) were similarly obtained during the waterbird census. The 3rd country record of the Broad-billed sandpiper (Limicola falcinellus) was further made during the survey.

The surveyed areas are actually considered migration or navigational routes of the migratory birds or also known as Migratory Flyways. In the Philippines, only the Olango Island in Cebu has been recognized as part of the East Asian – Australian Flyway. These migratory sites are very important to several species of birds that are taking refuge in tropical countries during winter.  Usually migratory birds attract the interest of global birding community.

So far, there are only four sites in the Philippines declared as Wetlands of International Importance and these are the Olango Island in Cebu, Naujan Lake in Oriental Mindoro, Tubbataha Reef in Palawan and Agusan Marsh in Agusan del Sur. The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance or popularly known as Ramsar Convention is an inter-governmental treaty providing the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation of wetlands and their resources.  It is the only global environmental treaty focusing on a particular ecosystem and was adopted in 1971. The Philippines is one of signatories of the treaty. (This article is also published at the 20 February 2012 issue of the Visayan Daily Star, Bacolod City).

February 19, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Coastal and Marine Ecosystems, Ecosystems, Species Conservation | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Coron Island, a must-see destination


The author in Coron Island, Palawan

It is quite amazing that just minutes after the Department of Tourism launched its new campaign slogan, it’s more fun in the Philippines, last January 6, it became viral in the internet with numerous photographs showing some spectacular and awesome places in the country. Most of the photos display the beautiful landscape and seascapes in different islands of the Philippines, featuring white beaches, colorful marine line, crystal-clear rivers and lakes, lush forest, mystical caves and many more one can only imagine.

Having the privilege and opportunity to visit a number of these tourist destinations, due to my engagement as consultant to several conservation projects, I could only say that one of the must see destinations in the Philippines is the Coron Island, one of the islands in the Calamian Group of Islands, also known as Calamianes, in northern Palawan. The Calamianes also includes Culion, Busuanga and over a hundred more islands. Coron and Busuanga municipalities occupy the Busuanga Island, while Culion is a separate island municipality. There was one point in time when many were quite hesitant to visit Culion because it has been known as the leprosy colony of the Philippines.

Located within the municipality of Coron, the Coron Island is just less than an hour boat ride from the town proper in deep blue water usually sparkling under the broad day light. While approaching the island, the numerous walls of stones, competing with their dazzling and marvelous natural features, are scenes to behold. These stone walls are dotted with beautifully designed stunted trees, swaying in accordance with the rhythm of gentle winds coming from the ocean.

The breathtaking scenery further includes the white sand curved in different coves and coastlines of the island where visitors will surely be enticed to splash in ice-colored water, which is also competing with the splendor and beauty of the different rock formations. Fascinatingly, the island remains natural with no permanent structures usually associated with popular tourist destinations in the country.

But more than its wonderful natural features, Coron Island is also an important cultural site in the Philippines because it is the ancestral domain of the Tagbanua, one of the Indigenous Tribes in Palawan. In fact, this is precisely the reason why the island remains free from commercial establishments, such as privately-owned beach resorts, since the Tagbanuas are the sole owner of the whole island, including its surrounding coastal waters by virtue of a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title awarded to the tribe by the National Council of Indigenous People.

The ancestral domain of the Tagbanuas covers 24,530 hectares and it was the first awarded CADT in the Philippines and the whole of Asia. Moreover, this ancestral land is also the first globally known Indigenous Cultural Conservation Area in the Philippines due to the efforts of the Tagbanuas in protecting and conserving the island. Tour operators are required to seek registration from the tribe for them to bring visitors in Coron Island.

This article is also available at:

January 16, 2012 Posted by | Coastal and Marine Ecosystems, Conservation Initiatives, Indigenous People | 1 Comment

Developing diverse conservation models


The Philippines is an amazing country endowed with a variety of life forms. Our geographic feature, as a group of islands,

One best example of a successful conservation initiative is the Danjugan Island in southern Negros Occidental. It is currently owned and managed by the Philippines Reef and Rainforest Foundation and conservation measures in the area are on-going. It is also being developed as a prime ecotourism destination in the region. (Gerry Ledesma Photo)

enormously gifted us with numerous species of flora and fauna that could not be found elsewhere in the world or the so called endemic species. In fact, a good number of our species is restricted only to a particular island, which makes the Philippines as one of the world’s center of endemism. The diversity of our biological resources is also attributed to a wide range of habitats, from terrestrial ecosystems to coastal and marine ecosystems. Unfortunately, our environment and natural resources seem badly managed through the years such that many of our endemic species are already at the brink of extinction in the wild, and the different habitats are similarly deteriorating.  The major causes for the endangerment of our species are excessive exploitation and habitat destruction.  Several of our species are already classified as critically endangered, meaning their population in the wild is getting limited and they may likely extinct if no proper measures are implemented.  The Negros Island, in particular, is among the candidate sites for extinction in the Philippines because most of its endemic species are already listed as threatened species by both the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the IUCN-World Conservation Union.

Given also the diversity of the situation in one island to another island, it is also necessary we explore various conservation regimes that will contribute to the protection of our threatened endemic species and their corresponding habitats. One of the most common approaches to biodiversity conservation is the protected areas system, and we have a very good policy framework on this, as enunciated in the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act or Republic Act 7586.  While the NIPAS is known to be the most effective measure for biodiversity conservation, it suffered setbacks in the implementation because the DENR was caught unaware of rigorous processes and resources needed to make RA 7586 nationally operational, according to Director Mundita Lim of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau. Many of our protected areas are languishing from lack of the much needed resources, including technical and managerial assistance, and seemingly this challenge is far from resolution.

The establishment of the first ever network of Local Conservation Areas in the Polillo Group of Islands is the other working model for conservation*

The constraint imposed by the protected areas system should be considered as an opportunity to look into other mechanisms and strategies in biodiversity conservation.  The PAWB recognizes the need to explore some conservation models as alternatives to protected area, especially in areas where no protection measures are already in place. Lim said, this is precisely the motivation why the PAWB, in partnership with non-government organizations, is now implementing the New Conservation Areas in the Philippines Project, with a grant provided by the Global Environment Facility through the United Nations Development Programme. The NewCAPP capitalizes learning from some sites that have established conservation areas through local processes and approval and will hopefully emulate those lessons learned in other project sites. The experience of the municipalities of Polillo, Panukulan and Burdeos in the Polillo Group of Islands in establishing local conservation areas through issuance of Sangguniang Bayan ordinances is a pioneering effort that is working quite well in protecting the Polillos threatened endemic species.  The model invoked the Local Government Code as a policy framework for LGUs to take the lead in natural resources management, in as much that the presence of the DENR could hardly be felt in the group of islands.

Since the Philippines is also a culturally diverse country, with several tribes of Indigenous People, it is worth looking into the traditional natural resources governance as a working model in biodiversity conservation. This involves establishment of Indigenous Cultural Conservation Areas in the ancestral domain claims of the IPs. Some studies show that the IP traditional resource management is in fact more sensitive to biodiversity because of the close association of the IP’s way of life to nature. The declaration of this traditional conservation paradigm solely lies at the IPs and it is important to work with tribal groups in promoting biodiversity. Other conservation models include private reserves and community managed conservation areas.  One best example of a successful conservation initiative is the Danjugan Island in southern Negros Occidental. It is currently owned and managed by the Philippines Reef and Rainforest Foundation and conservation measures in the area are on-going.  It is also being developed as a prime ecotourism destination in the region. Some marine protected areas and fish sanctuaries are also established as community managed conservation sites. With the diverse threats and issues facing our biodiversity, it is high time that we shall explore all mechanisms that will ensure proper protection of our threatened endemic species and habitats.

September 10, 2011 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Coastal and Marine Ecosystems, Conservation Initiatives, Governance, Protected Areas, Species Conservation | 4 Comments

Negros Occidental faces more ecological stress


Negros Occidental has barely four percent forest cover out of its total land area*

The environmental condition of Negros Occidental is already in critical state with the deterioration of its numerous ecosystems. The natural forest of the province is hardly four percent of its total land area, and its capacity to provide ecological services is already threatened. The remaining forests of Negros Occidental are primarily confined in the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, Northern Negros Natural Park, and some forest patches in the southern part of the province.  These minimal forests are not yet fully secured because they are still threatened with destruction, especially in southern Negros Occidental where there are several mining applications and operations. Mining is a key environmental concern not only in Negros Occidental but the entire country, because most mining sites are similarly situated in the remaining forested areas.  Mining operations entail forest clearing, landscape alteration, and pollution. Washouts from mining operations also find their way into river systems and ultimately into coastal and marine ecosystems. Mining activities also affect wildlife and their habitats. Based on scientific studies, the forests in southern part of the province serve as critical habitats of important wildlife species, many of which are already threatened with extinction in the wild. The presence of threatened species clearly indicates the bad and worsening state of the environment.

Adding pressures to the already deteriorating ecological situation of Negros Occidental are the proposed coal-fired power plant and the offshore magnetite sand mining. Coal is known as a dirty source of energy and it contributes carbon emission in the atmosphere, not to mention that it is likewise hazardous to human health. Coal-fired power plant is being entertained because of the reported power shortage in Negros Occidental but ultimately it will likely result to a more serious environmental problem. The proposed offshore magnetite sand mining in the different parts of the province is really a disturbing development because it will create environmental havoc. Very recently, a scoping was held for the environmental impact assessment of the proposed magnetite sand mining covering more than 20,000 hectares offshore areas in Silay City and EB Magalona. The reported proponent of this offshore mining is the Massart Mineral Resources, Inc. based in Ermita in Manila City.

This proposed mining operation will surely affect the coastal and marine ecosystems, because it involves dredging and barging and construction of port facilities, among others.   Just like the forest, the coastal and marine ecosystems in Negros Occidental are already in terrible state with limited mangrove forest left and the coral reefs are fragmented and in poor condition. The proposed offshore mining may possible cover mangrove sites, particularly in Barangay Balaring in Silay where mangroves are still available. The fact that this mining operation will entail dredging of minerals will loosen and destabilize the sand. Moreover, this mining claim will dislocate the economy of fishing communities because the proposed area of operation is basically within the municipal waters, which are intended as fishing grounds of municipal fisher folks. 

While it is true that these proposed environmentally critical projects may offer economic opportunities, it is very important that we shall also consider their social and environmental costs. Unfortunately, the environmental impact assessment in the Philippines does not provide detailed cost and benefit analysis and valuation, to determine if these proposed projects are indeed beneficial in the long-term.  The economic benefits derived from these projects may not be enough to compensate environmental damages and far below the ecological services provided by natural ecosystems. If all these projects will finally be approved, Negros Occidental will become highly industrialized but how long the critical ecosystems of the province can withstand with these?

May 17, 2011 Posted by | Coastal and Marine Ecosystems, Deforestation and Degradation, Ecosystems, Forest Ecosystem, Mining | 4 Comments

Negros, a conservation hotspot


 It is quite encouraging that no less than the provincial government of Negros Occidental, under Governor Alfredo

The threatened Negros bleeding-heart pigeon*

 Marañon Jr., has emphasized the need to protect the already threatened environment of the province, which is being considered as one of the biodiversity hotspots of the Philippines. The European Commission has provided funding support, amounting to P22.4 million, to further boost the conservation initiatives of the provincial government.

The EC fund shall be provided with P3.9 million by the provincial government to implement a two-year project entitled “Effective Natural Resources Governance through Inter-Local Government Alliances”. As the project title clearly implies, this effort is geared toward enhancing the capacity of the different multisectoral groups in delivering conservation outcomes in the different cities and municipalities of the province.

As reported in this paper last week, these alliances include the management of the Northern Negros Natural Park,

The Northern Negros Natural Park*

Northern Negros Aquatic Resources Management and Advisory Council, Central Negros Council for Coastal Resources and Development (LGUs from Bago to Binalbagan, the Kabankalan, Himamaylan, Ilog-Integrated Coastal Management Council, and the Southern Negros Coastal Development Council) towns of Cauayan and Hinoba-an along with Sipalay City).

The support of the EC for this project is very crucial to ensure that local governing bodies are provided with necessary capacity to implement concrete measures in protecting the environment, particularly the forest, coastal, and marine ecosystems.  Just like the terrestrial natural forest of Negros Occidental that is barely four percent of the province’s total land area, the mangrove forest left is only limited to a few thousands hectares or less. In general, the coral reef in Negros Occidental is in bad state and confined also in a limited space.

The degradation of the different ecosystems of Negros Occidental is already alarming with a good number of endemic

Illegally sourced forest products in southern Negros Occidental*

 species, especially the forest-dependent species, included in the list of threatened species. The protection of the remaining forests, particularly the Northern Negros Natural Park, the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park and the forest patches in southern Negros Occidental, is crucial to the survival of these globally important species.  It is therefore important that effective protection measures are carried out to ensure the survival of these species, some of which are only available in Negros and nowhere else in the world.

Similarly, the protection of the coastal and marine ecosystems is not only necessary to maintain ecological balance, but including the sustainability of the fishery production and food security.  Through the years, fishery production has declined because of the wanton destruction of mangroves and coral reefs, which serve as important spawning grounds of numerous and commercially important species.

On the other hand, the forest degradation in Negros Occidental is so severe such that forest rehabilitation and restoration efforts have to be intensified not only for the purpose of protecting threatened species but in ensuring the continuous freshwater supply. Many of the critical watersheds of the province are in serious state of denudation and the declining water supply has been felt in several areas, especially during summer. However, forest rehabilitation should make sure that the tree plantations being established have a semblance of what is really a natural forest by planting diverse endemic species.  Some tree plantations are not really meant to renew the real forest because they involve planting of exotic species, like gmelina, mahogany, and eucalyptus, which according to experts are not actually watershed appropriate species.  

The pronouncement of Marañon that the provincial government under his stewardship will prioritize even more environmental protection is encouraging and many are hoping that illegal activities in forest, coastal, and marine ecosystems, which are still rampant in several areas, shall be dealt accordingly. (This article also appeared in the August 02, 2010 issue of the Visayan Daily Star in Bacolod City, Philippines)*

August 6, 2010 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Coastal and Marine Ecosystems, Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Fresh Water Ecosystems, Governance, Protected Areas, Species Conservation, Watershed | Leave a comment

Olango Island, a haven for migratory birds


The author in a bird watching stint at the Olango Island in Cebu*

OLANGO ISLAND, Lapu-Lapu City – The province of Cebu in central Philippines is now getting famous as a major tourist destination in the country. Interestingly, one of the islands of Cebu is also a favorite escapade not only by tourists but also of thousands of birds known as migratory species. Only about two hours by land and sea travel from downtown Cebu City, this island has a unique feature worthy of its stature as a Wetland of International Importance, in accordance with the Ramsar Declaration of the United Nations. Part of the wetland portion of this island, measuring about 920 hectares, has been declared as the Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary in 1992, because it is an important staging area for migratory shorebirds in the central Philippines. These birds take refuge in the island during winter season. As such, this wildlife sanctuary is indeed an important resting site for migratory birds, some of which are globally threatened to extinction in the wild.

Together with some members of the Foundation for the Philippine

The author (4th from right) with some members of the Foundation for the Philippine Environment and Cebu Biodiversity Conservation Foundation*

Environment and the Cebu Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, I took a side trip last Friday to see for myself the amazing features of this wildlife sanctuary, and indeed, the visit was a great opportunity to see some migratory birds flocking over the island. Bird watching is the main attraction of the sanctuary, and some 300 to 500 local and international tourists visit the area every month, park authorities said. Some 97 bird species have been recorded in this island of which 48 are migratory and 42 others are known as resident species. Among the 52 species of water birds known in the island, 32 are waders, 13 are waterfowls and nine are seabirds. Some species found in the island include the Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), Chinese Egret (Egretta eulophotes), Great Egret (Casmerodius albus), Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata), Far Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis), Grey-tailed Tattler (Tringa brevipes), Asiatic Dowitcher (Limnodromus semipalmatus) and Great know (Calidris tenuirostris), among others. The rare Asiatic Dowitcher, which I was able to see, and the threatened Chinese Egret utilize Olango as a sort of refueling site.

These mudflats serve as resting grounds for thousands of migratory birds*

The sanctuary is made up of inter-tidal coralline sand flats and mudflats with a portion of mangrove swamps.  The sand flats and mudflats are sparkling in white color during broad daylight and provide a beautiful contrast to the blue skies. They make the landscape and seascape awesome and picturesque in almost all directions. These sand flats are comparable to the feature of the Fraser Island, a known sand island in Australia. Good enough, the natural features of this wildlife sanctuary are not obstructed with man-made facilities that are usually associated with tourism sites in the Philippines. The visitors’ information center, footwalk and viewing deck are the only infrastructures that have been constructed in the area. The viewing deck was placed on a strategic area where visitors, with the aid of telescope, may be able to see and watch migratory birds flocking in wide mudflats.

A campsite was designated also for those who may want to stay for camping,

The sparkling white sand flats and mudflats at the Olango Island are comparable to the feature of the Fraser Island (a sand island) in Australia*

while the refreshing ambience of the sanctuary is ideal for leisurely walk along the coastline, especially at the onset of sunrise and sunset. With not much obstructions hovering in the sanctuary, stargazing is another activity that may be explored during the night with the chirping of birds and sounds of waves flashing at the coastline as a serene background. The Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary has been included on the directory of Important Bird Areas of the Haribon Foundation and Birdlife International because of its prominent role in conserving the world’s bird diversity. In a conservation priority setting, the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources jointly with the Haribon and Conservation International declared this wildlife sanctuary as one of the 128 Key Biodiversity Areas of the Philippines.

This article also appeared at the Visayan Daily Star, Bacolod City, Philippines, 07 December 2009 issue (

December 8, 2009 Posted by | Coastal and Marine Ecosystems, Protected Areas, Species Conservation | Leave a comment

Palace allocates P1.6B for Manila Bay cleanup –, Philippine News for Filipinos

Palace allocates P1.6B for Manila Bay cleanup –, Philippine News for Filipinos

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Could this be cited as an example case in filing other environmental charges in the Supreme Court so that the government would be forced to allocate funds for environmental protection?

September 8, 2009 Posted by | Coastal and Marine Ecosystems | Leave a comment