Errol Abada Gatumbato

Conservation matters to His Holiness

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BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The pastoral and state visit of His Holiness, Pope Francis, in the Philippines from January 15  to 19, 2015, did not only focus on issues concerning Christian faith, social justice, equality, and other social and moral concerns, but also touched on matters relating to environment and natural resources. This is not actually surprising, since by choosing the name Francis, he already showed to the whole world, right after his election as the latest successor of Saint Peter, that he truly cares for nature.

He used the name of Saint Francis of Assisi, who is a known Patron Saint of nature, because of his extraordinary love for animals. In his statement during his first appearance with the media as the head of the Catholic Church in 2013, the Pope said, “That is how the name came into my heart, Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation. These days, we do not have very good relations with creation, do we?”

During his courtesy call on President Benigno Aquino III in Malacañang January 16, the Pope categorically emphasized the need to preserve our rich human and natural resources, which the Philippines has been blessed with, according to the Holy Father, who is also the head of the small Vatican state. However, it necessitates that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good, the Pope declared. This is a very clear message of the Pope that directly links governance in natural resources, conservation and environmental protection. By ensuring the common good, our political leaders should have the commitment and integrity to safeguards the right of the people to a healthy environment over personal vested interests.

This is particularly important in the country, because of the rapid deterioration of our natural resources and the massive environmental degradation we are facing today. Honestly and integrity are very necessary in governance so that our national resources shall be properly managed and secured from corruption.

While on board the papal plane on his way to the Philippines, the Pope was quoted in numerous media reports as saying that the global warming the entire world is experiencing today is man-made. Pope Francis believes this is largely because the people had tremendously exploited nature. But he is also glad that many people are talking about it now. The Pope will release his encyclical on ecology this year, which hopefully will further advance the debate and initiatives in combating climate change.

During his encounter with the youth at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila January 18, the Pope also mentioned that one of the major challenges in the Philippines is the climate change. While he did not elaborate on this, it is to my opinion that the Pope is very aware of the country’s vulnerability to the impacts of the climate change, including our susceptibility to the hazards and risks of disasters and calamities. I was expecting him to mention about this while in Tacloban on Saturday, but he did focus more on sufferings and inspirations brought about by the devastation of super typhoon Yolanda.

In his final message to the youth at the UST, His Holiness singled out the concern on environmental protection, which he identified as one of his priorities from the very start of his mission as the present successor of Saint Peter in the Roman Catholic Church.EAG.

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January 25, 2015 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Climate Change, Conservation Events, Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Protecting our island biodiversity

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The whole world commemorated the International Biodiversity Day last May 22. The United Nations General Assembly declared this event in 2000 to increase awareness and understanding on biological diversity and its associated issues and challenges.

This year’s celebration focused on the theme, “Island Biodiversity”, to coincide with the designation by the UN of 2014 as the International Year of Small Developing States. This is also to strengthen the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The theme is very relevant to the Philippines, because it is composed of numerous islands and islets, a good number of which are considered smaller islands, but yet, they contain unique ecosystems, habitats, flora and fauna. Many of our small islands have exceptional and beautiful features that are worth protecting for recreational, educational and scientific activities, while at the same, sustaining whatever ecological and environmental services they offer to the people. However, there are also small islands that have been subjected to extensive development for tourism, logging and mining, thereby altering their natural landscape and seascape.

It is also important to note that many of our small islands harbor endemic species, meaning some species are only restricted to a particular island and could not be found elsewhere. For instance, Negros Island has numerous island endemic species, such as the Negros fruit dove, which is now suspected to be extinct, since it has never been recorded after its discovery in 1953 at the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park.

Although Cebu has suffered intensive deforestation, it is very important in terms of biodiversity, because it has Cebu flower picker, Cebu hawk owl, Cebu cinnamon tree and Cebu black shama, that are only known to occur in this island.

The Ilin Island in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, is the only locality where the Ilin Bushy-tailed cloud rat, or the Hairy-tailed cloud rat, has been recorded. Similarly, the Sulu bleeding heart pigeon is only restricted in Tawi-tawi, while Camiguin has also its own endemic species, such as the Camiguin hawk owl. The Calamianes in Palawan has several endemic species, the most popular of which is the Calamian deer. The island of Mindoro, although it is relatively a larger island, contains a variety of endemic species, like the Mindoro bleeding heart pigeon and the famous Tamaraw, which is considered as the largest mammal recorded in the country. Polillo Islands in Quezon province has several endemic sub-species of birds. The Dinagat cloud rat is only found in Dinagat Island in Mindanao.

The unique island endemism of the Philippines makes our country as one of the mega-diverse countries on biodiversity. However, most, if not all, of our island endemic species are already listed as threatened species in the Red List of Threatened Species of the IUCN-World Conservation Union and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The likely extinction of island endemic species may happen once the remaining habitats in the islands where they occur are further destroyed. It is therefore very necessary that the remaining natural habitats shall be protected and those degraded ones restored.*

June 14, 2014 Posted by | Conservation Events, Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Protected Areas, Species Conservation | , , , , | Leave a comment

Mainstreaming biodiversity conservation in agricultural landscapes

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

Negrenses Pledge – (L-R) Provincial Planning and Development Coordinator Marlin Sanogal, PBCFI Vice President and Managing Director Errol Gatumbato and Provincial Environment Management Officer Wilmon Peñalosa sign in the biodiversity pledge during the recent launching of the UNDP-GEF supported Biodiversity Partnerships Project of DENR in Quezon City*

The Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources  is now embarking in what may be considered as an ambitious and yet a very significant step in further promoting biodiversity conservation in the Philippines.  This time, PAWB is not only eyeing on protected areas but also attempting to integrate and mainstream biodiversity concerns in agricultural landscapes through its project dubbed as “Biodiversity Partnerships Project: Mainstreaming in Local Agricultural Landscapes”, or shortly known as BPP. This initiative is supported by the United Nations Development Programme-Global Environment Facility covering a six-year period.

One of the key concerns in the Philippines’ biodiversity conservation is the conversion to agriculture of important terrestrial habitats, particularly the forest ecosystems. Through time, agricultural development has expanded in classified forestlands and declared national parks and other forest reserves.  Today, the national park model seems no longer feasible because of the presence of settlement and associated development in formerly proclaimed national parks. As a concept, national park is only intended for recreational and scientific purposes, and should be free from other human activities, like settlement, agriculture and industrial activities.

The National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 or Republic Act 7586 introduced a radical framework from the traditional national park system to a more flexible management regime in protected areas. It introduced land tenure security for the so called tenured migrants and may allow other activities that are within the scope of the management plan of a particular PA. And this is where the BPP is relevant in promoting biodiversity friendly livelihood activities in agricultural areas within and adjacent to the different PAs.

Many of our agricultural practices are detrimental to the conservation of our biological diversity. One destructive agriculture form is the slash-and-burn-farming, which does not only wipe out the land vegetative cover but is also affecting the soil fertility. Some upland farmers are engaged in the production of high valued crops that are dependent on inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, which are not only harmful to wildlife but also to our health and the environment, in general. Many exotic agricultural species invaded our biodiversity sites and in some instances they are becoming invasive species. This is particularly true in mono-cropping system of agriculture that has contributed to the vanishing of economically productive native varieties. In most cases, agricultural development has no provisions on soil and water conservation measures.

Since BPP involves agriculture, the DENR is partnering with the Department of Agriculture in developing policies and tools in mainstreaming biodiversity in agriculture.  The task includes providing specific definitions, criteria and standards on what is biodiversity friendly agriculture in the real sense.  These guidelines, once formulated at the national level, shall be piloted in eight demonstration sites in the Philippines, which include the Northern Negros Natural Park in Negros Occidental.

The BPP will be working with local government units to ensure that local development planning considers the integration of biodiversity conservation in agriculture and other development initiatives. It will promote mainstreaming of biodiversity in the comprehensive land use plan and other short and long-term development plans of LGUs in eight demonstration sites. The Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc and the Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation, Inc are the NGO partners of DENR-PAWB in implementing the BPP in NNNP.

November 26, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Events, Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Governance, Protected Areas | Leave a comment

Unveiling new species of Philippine hawk owls

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The writer with the principal author of a publication that described the two new species of owls in the Philippines, Dr. Pamela Rasmussen of the Michigan State University. Bob Natural photo*

The preparation for the unveiling of two new species and one subspecies of Philippine hawk owls in Cebu last Friday, August 17, took much of my time while tropical monsoon rain or “habagat” was lashing Metro Manila and several parts of Luzon during the first week of this month.  Since I am currently the Vice President and Managing Director of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc., which was tasked to host the event with the Philippines Business for Social Progress-Visayas, I was designated to sign and send out some invitations for the occasion. I was expecting the unveiling of new species would be an interesting affair, but only to realize that it was even more a dramatic and somehow an emotional ceremony, especially when the curtain covering the new species was finally unveiled.  The affair in Cebu last Friday was quite a different one compared with several announcements of new species I had attended before, since this event was held in the place where one of the species is known to exist.

Two Filipino Biologists in the Research

The PBCFI hosted the unveiling because two of its senior biologists, Lisa Marie Paguntalan and Godfrey Jakosalem, both are holding master’s degree on wildlife, were the only Filipinos involved in the

Wildlife Biologist Lisa Marie Paguntalan, one of the two Filipinos in the study team. Photo from the Facebook profile of Paguntalan*

investigation that finally distinguished the Cebu hawk owl (Ninox rumseyi) and the Camiguin hawk owl (Ninox leventisi) as two different new species of Philippine hawk owls and are endemic only in Cebu and Camiguin, respectively.  Another new subspecies of hawk owl (Ninox spilonota fisheri) from Tablas Island has been uncovered in the study. The principal investigator of these discoveries, Dr. Pamela Rasmussen of Michigan State University, was the guest of honor in the unveiling, where she also presented the highlights of their findings. Other collaborators in this research included Desmond Allen, Nigel James Collar, Robert Hutchinson, Bram Demeulemeester, Robert Kennedy and Frank Lambert. The full report of the investigation is published in the current issue of Forktail, the Journal of Asian Ornithology with a title “Vocal Divergence and New Species in the Philippine Hawk Owl Ninox philippensis Complex”. The authors of this publication represent different organizations, namely, Birdlife International, Oriental Bird Club, Birdtour Asia, and of course the MSU and PBCFI. The National Geographic also provided additional support.

The announcement of the discovery of these new species is already all over the world with numerous postings in the internet by national and international media as well as in websites of various scientific and

Godfrey Jakosalem, also a wildlife biologist and the other Filipino in the study team. Photo from the Facebook profile of Jakosalem*

nongovernment organizations.  The unveiling of new owls was also simultaneously held in the US hosted by MSU and in United Kingdom by Oriental Bird Club and BirdLife International, coinciding the opening of the 2012 British Birdfair.

Seven hawk owl species and one subspecies

During the unveiling ceremony, Rasmussen claimed that based on morphology particularly vocalizations, the Philippine hawk owl requires treatment as seven allopatric species and at least one additional subspecies. She said, “More than 15 years ago, we realized that new subspecies of Ninox hawk owls existed in the Philippines”.  It was only last year when the group of Rasmussen gathered new recordings confirming the existence of two new species and one subspecies of hawk owls in the country.  “Vocalizations differ significantly between all seven species, the limits of which are incongruent with all previous taxonomies”, said Rasmussen, who is the assistant professor of zoology and assistant curator of mammalogy and ornithology at the museum of MSU. With this development, Rasmussen’s group recommended the treatment of the different hawk owl species in the Philippines as Luzon hawk owl (N. philippensis), Mindanao hawk owl (N. spilocephala), Mindoro hawk owl (N. mindorensis), Sulu hawk owl (Ninox reyi), Romblon hawk owl (N. spilonota), Camiguin hawk owl (new species), and Cebu hawk owl (new species).

William Oliver, one of the pioneers in developing species conservation programme in the Philippines. Photo from the Facebook profile of Oliver*

10 endemic owls in the Philippines

According to William Oliver, who orchestrated the development of the Philippine Owls Conservation Programme and a PBCFI trustee, the event last Friday also marked the publication of the second of two major revisions of the taxonomic classifications of the two widely distributed and highly variable species of Philippine owls that are all endemic in the country – the medium-sized Philippine scops owl (Otus megalotis) and the diminutive Philippine hawk owl (Ninox philippensis). Oliver’s statement is in reference to the 2011 findings of Filipino Ornithologist, Dr. Hector Miranda Jr., which similarly elevated all three former races of the Philippine scops owl to full species status – the Luzon lowland scops owl (Otus megalotis), the Visayan scops owl (Otus nigrorum) and the Mindanao lowland scops-owl (Otus everetti). This finding was contained in a publication entitled “Phylogeny and taxonomic review of Philippine lowland scops owls (Strigiformes)” at Wilson Journal of Ornithology in September 2011.

Advancing Biodiversity Conservation

Oliver added, “Needless to say, these two key papers not only profoundly influence current understanding of Philippine owl diversity

Photo courtesy of Godfrey Jakosalem*

and endemism, but will also inevitably – perhaps quite drastically – expose the far larger number of seriously threatened endemic owls than previously supposed”.  None of these owl species, however, are included in the international and national listings of threatened and protected species despite the fact that several highly distinct forms were already known to be severely threatened throughout their limited ranges, Oliver further claimed. He added there is a need to evaluate the conservation status of these species since they may be categorized as threatened under the List of Threatened Species of the IUCN World Conservation Union.

Lawyer Joseph Ace Durano, another PBCFI trustee and former tourism secretary , encouraged his fellow Cebuanos to capitalize the presence of another endemic species in advancing forest protection and habitat restoration in Cebu, that is heavily affected by deforestation. Assistant Director Nelson Devanadera of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau said these recent discoveries further attest the importance of the country in global biodiversity and assured the support of the PAWB in biological researches as basis in coming out with appropriate and effective conservation measures.  Based on the study of Jakosalem, there are only about 200 pairs of Cebu hawk owls left in the remaining forest patches in Cebu.

August 20, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Events, Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Species Conservation | Leave a comment

Negros Occidental commemorates Environment Week

BY:  ERROL A. GATUMBATO

On its 20th year, the province of Negros Occidental is now commemorating Environment Week with a theme “Green from Above, Blue from Below”. The long-week celebration officially takes off today with Holy Mass and opening ceremony at the Provincial Administration Center, where Governor Freddie Maraňon is expected to deliver his environmental message. The provincial government, through the Provincial Environment Management Office, spearheads the Environment Week, in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and other national agencies, along with several civil society organizations, like the Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation and the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation.

Simultaneous unveiling of various environmental exhibits in the lobby of the capitol, Robinson’s Place and Gaisano City will immediately follow after the opening ceremony. Exhibits are open for public viewing until Friday this week. On June 19, a series of environmental forums shall be held at the PAC. The public, especially schools, is encouraged to attend the discussion on “Climate Change Adaptation and Carbon Footprint Calculation” at 9:00 to 11:00 am, back-to-back at the same time with a topic on “The New Generation of Watershed Management”.   In the afternoon, “Composting 101” and “Biodiversity Conservation: Water Birds of Negros and Irrawaddy Dolphins” are additional topics for discussion in the forums.

Everyone is also invited to participate in the province-wide tree planting and coastal clean up on June 20 and 21, respectively. Designated sites have been identified by the PEMO and the different cities and municipalities in Negros Occidental. The Environment Week will culminate on Friday with environmental jamming at the Capitol Lagoon from 4:00 to 8:00pm. The organizers of this event are also recommending to the public to take time and visit places that showcase environmental protection and conservation, such as the sanitary landfills in Sagay, San Carlos, Bago, Sipalay and Cadiz Cities, and the man-made forest of the Alter Trade-assisted communities in La Castellana. For wildlife enthusiasts, migratory bird watching in San Enrique and Irrawaddy Dolphins watch in Pulupandan are being recommended by organizers to make the Environment Week celebration even more exciting.

The Biodiversity Conservation Center of the NFEFI and PBCFI in South Capitol Road, Bacolod City will also open for educational tours on threatened wildlife species, while other recommended sites include the Mangrove Forest Park in Binalbagan, Museum sang Bata and Sagay Marine Reserve in Sagay City, AID Foundation and RU Foundry in Bacolod City for environment-friendly technologies, May’s Garden and Peňalosa Farms for organic farm products and Quiet Place in Bago City.

While the planned activities for the Environment Week showcase various conservation initiatives, let us be reminded that the work for environment is still very far from over. Negros Occidental remains a critical biodiversity hotspot because its numerous endemic species are highly threatened and several of which may soon be declared as extinct. The forest restoration in some sites is gaining momentum, but the remaining forest of the province is not yet fully secured from destructive and illegal activities, with the continuing incidents of slash and burn farming, timber poaching and charcoal making from the natural forest.  On the other hand, water pollution in some river systems, particularly in Victorias and Hinigaran remain unattended by concerned authorities, while illegal fishing activities continue to threaten our coastal and marine ecosystems.

June 17, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Events, Conservation Initiatives | Leave a comment

Mount Kanla-on gains more support

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

As one of the most important protected areas in the Philippines, the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island continues to receive support for its conservation and protection. The only home to the Negros fruit dove and other endemic species, Mount Kanla-on was among the first batch of protected areas in the country that has been declared by the Congress. However, the congressional declaration of Mount Kanla-on, as a component of the Philippines’ National Integrated Protected Areas System, was quite controversial with the reduction of its original land area by 169 hectares to give way for the delineation of a buffer zone solely intended for geothermal energy development.

MKNP newly designated Protected Area Superintendent Cecil Cañada said the budget provided by the national government for the management of the protected area is quite limited, so much so that his office is now tapping additional support from different agencies. Recently, the Senate, through the office of Senator Pia Cayetano, provided funds to cover the hiring of additional park wardens, enhancement of interpretation signs and markers, and development of conservation education, among others. Governor Freddie Marañon of Negros Occidental likewise released certain amount to update the survey and registration of protected area occupants. MKNP is also included in the National Greening Program of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, while some private groups, such as the Energy Development Corporation, are supporting restoration activities in the protected area, Cañada added.

Some local government units covering the MKNP are similarly involve in ecotourism development and supporting the operations of the Kanla-on Brigade Brigade, a group of volunteers who are actually implementing biodiversity protection measures. Cañada further disclosed that there is still a need to tap additional funding, logistical and technical support to further enhance the protection of MKNP, since there are still numerous concerns and challenges that need to be addressed in the area, especially involving the land tenure and sustainable livelihood of communities. He admitted that land conversion for agricultural development is still an issue, especially in the portions of MKNP in La Castellana, San Carlos and Canlaon City.

Although Mount Kanla-on (then spelled Canlaon) was long before proclaimed as one of the national parks in the Philippines, it has never been spared from logging, land titling, agriculture and settlement. Through the years, thousands of lowlanders encroached and settled permanently and became formal political units in MKNP. Almost half of about 24,000 hectares coverage of the protected area is now converted into other uses, while the remaining intact forests are now confined in higher elevations and slopes of Mount Kanla-on.

In spite of the reduction of Mount Kanla-on’s forests, it remains as one of the 128 Key Biodiversity Areas of the Philippines, because it is the host to a good number of endemic species with distribution limited only to Negros Island and West Visayas Bio-geographic Zone. In fact, numerous critically endangered species are found in Mount Kanla-on, the main reason why it is included as one of areas covered by the Alliance for Zero Extinction. Critically endangered is the highest category of threat assign to a particular flora and fauna that may soon extinct in the wild if no proper conservation measures are being in place.

Aside from its amazing flora and fauna, Mount Kanla-on is also noted for its majestic landscape and therefore a big asset for ecological tourism. The crater of the active Kanla-on Volcano, at the top most of the protected area, is a sight to behold, and the subject of ultimate destination of mountaineers, not only in the Philippines but including some other countries, too. The Margaha Valley, a dormant crater just several meters below the present crater, offers another relaxing view, while the Hardin Sang Balo, located along the trail from Sitio Wasay, Brgy. Minoyan in Murcia to the crater, is a marvelous gift of nature, where the different species of flora are competing their beauty and color. Waterfalls, with various features, also abound in Mount Kanla-on.  It is therefore necessary that support from various groups is enlisted to ensure the long-term protection and conservation of Mount Kanlaon. (Photos courtesy of the Office of the Protected Area Superintendent-Mount Kanla-on Natural Park)*

June 1, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Events, Forest Ecosystem, Protected Areas, Species Conservation | Leave a comment

The 2012 Biodiversity Day

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

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

Earth Day 2012

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

Last April 22, the whole world commemorated the Earth Day, now on its 42nd year following its declaration by the United Nations. Numerous activities in different parts of globe were initiated by environmental organizations to remind us of the present state of the Earth and what we can do, as an individual or group, to save it from further deterioration.  Looking into the Earth’s prevailing condition, one may think that there is no compelling reason to celebrate, in as much that we are facing enormous environmental issues and concerns today. Some damages we inflicted to Mother Nature are already irreversible and beyond repair.

We need not to be experts to determine what environmental problems we face these days. Just try to imagine the extreme weather we are experiencing during this summer with the increasing temperature. Last Saturday, the government’s weather bureau reported the highest temperature recorded in Metro Manila at 35.9 degrees Celsius, while a much higher temperature was noted in some parts of northern Luzon. On the contrary, scattered rainshowers are occurring in several regions of the country, particularly in Visayas and Mindanao.

With the kind of weather condition we have, one can immediately relate to what is now a popular phenomenon known as global warming, a reality that we need to confront squarely because of its devastating consequences, that include tremendous changes in the normal climatic pattern of the world. It is by this account that we are now experiencing erratic weather conditions.  According to experts, global warming is primarily attributed to the destruction of the ozone layer that shields the Earth from the direct heat of the Sun. Such destruction is the result of the voluminous accumulation of green house gases, such as carbon and methane, in the atmosphere. The Earth’s natural mechanisms are no longer capable of absorbing these emissions such that all these green house gases stay in the atmosphere and form a permanent layer.

The natural forest supposedly serves as a controlling agent since it absorbs carbon and emits oxygen.  Unfortunately, the natural forest of the world is getting limited due to massive deforestation. In the Philippines, for instance, the remaining forest cover is barely seven million hectares out of the over 30 million hectares land area. We lost almost 80% of our natural forest and most of the remaining forests are either open or secondary growth and/or plantation forests. Only less than a million hectare of closed canopy natural forest remains in different parts of the Philippines. The Visayas region is heavily affected with deforestation. It seems the cooling power of the remaining forest could no longer cope with the increasing temperature these days.

The changing climatic condition brings us to two contrasting situations – either prolonged dry and warm period, or much longer rainy and wet season.  It is also alarming to note that during the recent past, we observed the intensification of typhoons and the volume of rainwater is increasing. As such, we witnessed numerous disasters and calamities, such as heavy flooding and landslides.

The other impact of this global warming is the reduction of our freshwater supplies. With no rains coming, the freshwater stocks in various reservoirs are likewise declining, while some freshwater bodies, particularly river systems, may tend to dry up, because of the insufficiency of water supplies from our watersheds that has been likewise affected with deforestation. With this situation, even our food production will be affected since farming system that relies on rainwater may no longer be productive and the irrigated farming areas will have no sufficient water supplies.

The list of environmental challenges in our midst may never ends, but with our collective efforts and resolve to protect what has been left in our natural environment and restore what has been lost, we can make a difference. And so, let every day be a celebration of the Earth.

April 28, 2012 Posted by | Climate Change, Conservation Events, Conservation Initiatives, Deforestation and Degradation, Forest Ecosystem | Leave a comment

The Polillo Tarictic Festival

BY:  ERROL A. GATUMBATO

POLILLO, QUEZON. It is quite interesting that this relatively isolated yet peaceful municipality in the central east coast of Luzon Island in Quezon province started to gain national attention due to pioneering conservation efforts in the area. Although development here seems so slow compared with other local government units in the Philippines, the uniqueness of the biodiversity and the magnificent landscape and seascape of this municipality and the entire Polillo Group of Islands, in general, are natural assets that may boost the potential of this island group of becoming one of the important vacation destinations in the country.

To highlight the biodiversity importance of the area, the local government of Polillo has included the Polillo Tarictic Festival on its annual fiesta every March. The festival started several years back with the simple parade of tarictic mascots, exhibits and kite flying competition. Recently, it evolved as an important event with the holding of Polillo tarictic dance completion and float parade. The Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Programme, currently administered by the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc., along with the Polillo Islands Biodiversity Conservation Foundation , Inc.  provided technical assistance in the conceptualization and implementation of this festival.

It is important to note that the Polillo tarictic is endemic to the Polilllo Group of Islands, in spite that it is only a sub-species (Penelopides manillae subnigra) of the hornbill species known to science as Penelopides manillae. This is precisely the motivation why the LGU is providing prominence to this sub-species because its common tag carries the name of the municipality and it could not be found elsewhere in the country. Aside from Polillo tarictic there are also several other endemic faunal species and sub-species in this archipelago, such as the Philippine cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia), the Butaan monitor lizard (Varanus olivaceus), and at least nine endemic bird sub-species, the latter including the two of the world’s most endangered parrots – the Polillo endemic blue-naped (T. l. hybridus) and the Polillo blue-backed (T. s. freeri) parrots.

The Polillo Tarictic Festival is still on its infancy stage, but it has the potential of becoming another popular festival in the country if only the local government will be serious about it. The Polillo LGU needs to explore assistance and support from other institutions and individuals involved in organizing festivals, as well as to engage in massive and creative promotional activities. Most popular festivals in the Philippines do not carry a particular endemic fauna as a festival theme, and this makes the Polillo Tarictic Festival unique and original.

The concept of the festival is so simple. The dance competition showcases the natural features of the Polillo tarictic. It involves tarictic inspired costumes, music and even behaviour. The dance competition therefore becomes not only entertaining but educational as well. The creativity of interpreting the characteristics of tarictic through costumes and dances is challenging because the species itself is fabulous and colourful from its feathers, head, wings and body shape.  The tarictic also flies graciously and its movement can be a very good inspiration in dance choreography. The use of indigenous materials for costumes of dance participants is another feature of the Polillo Tarictic Festival.

Polillo is one of the three municipalities comprising the Polillo Island – the two others are Burdeos and Panukulan. It belongs to the entire Polillo Group of Islands, which also includes two other island municipalities of Patnanungan and Jomalig. The Polillo Group of Islands comprises of 27 small islands and islets. It is perhaps the most distinct sub-centre of endemism within the Luzon Bio-Geographic Zone and the Lowland Luzon Endemic Bird Area. This group of islands maybe considered as one of the world’s highest conservation priority areas in terms of both numbers of threatened endemic taxa and degrees of threat.

March 30, 2012 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Events, Conservation Initiatives, Species Conservation | Leave a comment

Negros, a conservation hotspot of the world

BY: ERROL ABADA GATUMBATO

The Wildlife Month Celebration in Negros Occidental last November once again underscored the biodiversity importance of the province, and Negros Island in general, particularly in terms of the number of threatened endemic species and degree of threats. When we talk about endemic species we mean a kind of plant or animal with population that is only restricted in a particular area and Negros accounts several of these life forms. A particular species is declared as threatened when its population in the wild is getting limited and may soon be extinct.  The IUCN – World Conservation Union is a recognized international authority that assign a particular level of threat for every declared threatened species, although the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has likewise come out with an administrative order providing the list of threatened flora and fauna in the Philippines.

The endemicity of species found in Negros is clearly reflected in the common names of a good number of species, such as the Negros fruit dove, Negros stripped babbler, Negros forest frog, Negros bleeding heart pigeon, and Negros bare-backed fruit bat, among others. However, in a recent development the Negros bleeding heart pigeon has been renamed as the Visayan bleeding heart pigeon because it is also known to occur in Panay. Numerous other endemic species are shared by major islands comprising the West Visayas Bio-geographic Zone – Negros, Panay, Cebu and Masbate, such as the Visayan or Philippines spotted deer, Visayan warty pig, Visayan writhed hornbill and Visayan leopard card, to name a few.

One of the most important species found only in Mount Kanla-on Natural Park is the Negros fruit dove, which to date remains mysterious because it has never been recorded following its discovery in 1953. Although there are notions that the species might be an invalid one, the global science community continues to affirm the validity of Negros fruit dove as a distinct threatened species of the world.

It is quite unfortunate that many of the endemic species are already at the brink of extinction in the wild primarily due to habitat destruction and overexploitation. Most of these threatened species are forest dependent and it is not new to many of us that Negros has lost most of its natural forest. This reality is in fact the rationale beyond the commemoration of Wildlife Month so that the general public will be informed on the biodiversity relevance of Negros and the need to secure both species and habitat from further deterioration. Initial studies show the remaining forests in Negros still harbor most, if now all, of the threatened endemic species of the island. It is therefore of paramount importance to protect these forests from destructive activities.  A vast track of classified forestlands in Negros has already been converted into other land uses, which makes forest restoration a very challenging task. However, if we want our endemic species to survive, it is necessary that we shall engage in massive habitat restoration and not just a plain reforestation with the use of exotic species. Habitat restoration is the reestablishment of what the forest was before.

It is interesting to note that both the provinces of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental are initiating the yearly commemoration of the Wildlife Month. In Negros Occidental, this year’s celebration was spearheaded by the provincial government through the Provincial Environment Management Office in partnership with the DENR, Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation, Inc., Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc. and other institutions.

Note: All photos in this article were taken during the Wildlife Parade in Bacolod City.  Photos courtesy by the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc.

December 10, 2011 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Events, Conservation Initiatives, Species Conservation | Leave a comment