Errol Abada Gatumbato

The Twin Lakes of Negros Oriental

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

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The author at the Balinsasayao Lake in Negros Oriental*

The Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board has invited me last week to its planners’ forum in Dumaguete City, to talk on the different management regimes on forest ecosystems as well as other conservation modalities. The HLURB’s land use planners from all over the country attended the forum, which included a field trip to contextualize the discussion on the actual situation prevailing in certain conservation sites. The HLURB has chosen the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park in Negros Oriental as one of the exposure sites of its forum’s participants. It was a good opportunity for me to visit the BTLNP that is now a popular ecotourism destination.

The park covers about 8,016.05 hectares and traverses the towns of Sibulan, San Jose, and Valencia, all in Negros Oriental. Its area includes the twin lakes of Balinsasayao and Danao. The BTLNP is part of Mount Talinis or Cuernos de Negros, a stratovolcano classified by the Phivolcs as a potentially active volcano within the Negros Volcanic Belt, and the twin lakes are actually crater lakes. This protected area contains lowlands forests that are now getting scarce in Negros Island.

The official entrance station of the BTLNP is only about an hour drive from Dumaguete

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The entrance station of the park*

City in a distance of 25 kilometers. It is situated in a valley surrounded with lush forests comprising of natural and recovering secondary forests. Situated at about 840 meters above sea level, the entrance station is well maintained and manned by polite and accommodating personnel of the park. Behind the station is a natural pond, known to communities as Kabalin-an Pond, where several trees of different varieties are dispersed. The trees look so old and they add color to the pond, which is less than a hectare. The green cover around the pond creates a shadow effect to the water making the scenery so tranquil. The stillness of the pond and its surrounding areas from different angles make it so mystical and rustic.

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The Kabalin-an Pond*

We moved in a little higher elevation, and there, we were greeted with the
beautiful view of the Balinsasayao Lake at the restaurant fully operated by the Mount

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The platform overlooking the Balinsasayao Lake*

Talinis People’s Organization Federation. The restaurant has a platform where you have the good view of verdant natural forest teaming with the clean and slightly green-colored water of the Balinsasayao Lake.   The community organization also offers boating services if one prefers to cross Balinsasayao Lake going to the viewing site of Danao Lake that would only take about 15 to 30 minutes. For those who would like a different adventure, there is a trail system connecting the two lakes.

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Boat services are available to cross the Balinsasayao Lake*

 

It was so refreshing and relaxing as our boat waded Balinsasayao Lake with all greeneries surrounding it dominated mostly of closed canopy natural forests. These forests are serving as habitats to numerous endemic species, some of which can only be found in Negros-Panay Faunal Region. The serenity and calmness of the water make you wonder how deep it is and what organisms exist, as I jokingly asked our boatman if there were sightings of crocodiles in the area in the past, to which he confidently responded that none at all.

 

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The Balinsasayao Lake*

It took us another 30 minutes to trek in a ridge where on top of it is another viewing deck for both Balinsasayao and Danao Lakes. It is at this vantage point where I realized why the park also carries the name twin lakes, because the two likes are somewhat similar in features, although Danao Lake is relatively smaller at estimated 28 hectares in surface size, as compared to 76 hectares Balinsasayao Lake.

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The Danao Lake*

My attention was caught when several members of our team noticed a bird hovering in surrounding forests of Danao Lake, and I luckily spotted the black colored bird with prominent orange colored beak. From the way it looks, I suspected that the bird is Rufous-headed hornbill. Wildlife Biologist Lisa Marie Paguntalan, executive director of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc., has confirmed my observation, as she claimed that the BTLNP is one of the areas in Negros where this critically endangered bird is still extant.

While I only stayed in the BTLNP in a limited time, it was noticeable that the ecotourism services of the protected area was carefully designed and is now being properly implemented. Only limited infrastructure facilities are available in the site and these are the mini-wharf, shed houses, restaurant, entrance station, viewing decks, and staff house for the staff of the park. The trails are maintained, while the guides are trained and familiar on the features of the site, including the identification of species. All the sites that we have visited were clean and I did not even notice a single trash. The way I see it, the management of the BTLNP is doing good, and all stakeholders of the park, particularly the Protected Area Management Board, Office of the Protected Area Superintendent of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and communities deserve commendation for a job well done.* (Similar article also appeared at the Visayan Daily Stay, 26 June 2017)

 

June 26, 2017 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Ecotourism, Forest Ecosystem, Fresh Water Ecosystems, Protected Areas, Species Conservation, Uncategorized, Wildlife Species | , , , , | 2 Comments

Rafflesia speciosa found in another site of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island continues to manifest its high standard as one of the centers of plant diversity in the Philippines. In a recent development, a species of Rafflesia has been found thriving in another location within the MKNP. Errol Gillang, one of the MKNP staff, accidentally recorded a Rafflesia species, which looks identical to Rafflesia speciosa, in a barangay in La Castellana town in Negros Occidental. Botanist Pat Malabrigo of the University of the Philippines Los Baños has first recorded this species in the Bago side of the MKNP in 2008.

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This species was 1st recorded in the Bago City side of the MKNP in 2008. Errol Gillang photo*

Rafflesia speciosa was first known to science in 2002 when botanist Julie Barcelona, formerly connected with the National Museum of the Philippines, discovered it in Antique province. It is an endemic species and only known to occur in Negros and Panay Islands, thus far. Barcelona said it is expected that the species can be found in other parts of the MKNP because it is quite common in the area. Wildlife biologist Lisa Paguntalan of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. also said her group will look into the presence of this Rafflesia in the site where it was lately found.

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Rafflesia speciosa was discovered in another location of the MKNP. Errol Gillang photo*

Rafflesia is a parasitic plant and it usually grows in the lowland to mountain forests. The different species of Rafflesia are found not only in the Philippines, but as well as in Thailand, Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, and Borneo. All of the Rafflesia species, numbering at least 10, in the country are endemic, which means they are entirely different from other countries. Unfortunately, most if not all of these species are already threatened, primarily due to habitat destruction.

This plant is somewhat “mysterious” because it has no leaves, stems, and roots, as it is entirely dependent to its host plants to grow and survive. Rafflesia’s host plants are species under the liana genus Tetrastigma Planch, according to the paper jointly published by Barcelona, Pieter Pelser, Danny Balete, and the late Leonard Co. In the same publication, the authors claimed the different species of Rafflesia live inside the roots and stems of their host plants and only their flowers are emerging, as they noted that flowers of some Rafflesia species are the largest of all flowering plants, reaching up to 1.5 meters in diameter. While Rafflesia species look so regal and beautiful, they emit a smell of rotten meat.

The number of Rafflesia species in the Philippines ballooned to 10 or 11 following the discovery of Rafflesia speciosa in 2002. Prior to it, only two species of Rafflesia were known to occur in the country – Rafflesia manillana and Rafflesia schadenbergiana, as presented in the publication entitled Taxonomy, Ecology and Conservation Status of Philippine Rafflesia of Barcelona, Pelser, Balete, and Co.

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Errol Gillang, one of the MKNP staff, recorded the Rafflesia speciosa in a barangay in La Castellana town in Negros Occidental*

The Rafflesia manillana was 1st recorded in Basey Samar in 1840s, and was recorded later on in some locations in Luzon. On the other hand, the Rafflesia schadenbergiana was 1st known to occur in a mountain near Mount Apo in Mindanao in 1882, and it took over a century when it was rediscovered in other parts of Mindanao, particularly in South Cotabato and Bukidnon provinces.

In addition to Rafflesia speciosa, some of the Rafflesia species that were recorded in recent years included Rafflesia baletei (Camarines Sur), Rafflesia Leonardi (Cagayan); Rafflesia lobata (Antique and Iloilo), and Rafflesia mira (Compostela Valley).

The recording of Rafflesia speciosa in another location of the MKNP is a good reminder of the need to conduct further field surveys and researches on the floral composition of the park. Only a limited survey has been conducted on the flora of the MKNP, and most likely there are more important species of plants, that are both biologically and economically important, awaiting discovery in this Key Biodiversity Area of Negros Island.

There might be other endemic species that can be found in the MKNP, given that several of its sites, especially in higher elevations, like Hardin sang Balo, Margaha Valley, and RAMS Lagoon, among others, have the presence of a variety of plants, many of which with colorful and lovely flowers. In fact, the MKNP management plan listed Isachne volcanica, a kind of grass found below the crater of the Kanla-on Volcano, as endemic only in the area and could not be found elsewhere.

Having the opportunity in the past to explore various parts of the MKNP, I could say that the whole area is, indeed, a natural museum of unique species of flora and fauna found in different ecosystems. While it is true that a large part of the MKNP has already been converted into other purposes, such as agriculture and settlement, its remaining forests remain critical habitats of species that are already highly threatened of becoming extinct in the wild.

For instance, the Birdlife International suspects that the Negros fruit dove (Ptilinopus arcanus) is already a lost species, because it has never been recorded again since its discovery in the MKNP in 1953. No any report of such tiny bird has existed or still exists anywhere else. The IUCN–World Conservation Union recommends the conduct of further surveys on the Negros Fruit dove in MKNP and some other remaining forest patches in Negros and Panay to ascertain if this species remains extant.

It is, therefore, of urgent concern to protect the remaining habitats and restore denuded areas of the MKNP for the Rafflesia and other species to continue thriving so that future generations will have the opportunity to still see them in the wild. In addition, these critical habitats in the MKNP are also crucial ecosystems that provide ecological services to both provinces of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental.

May 15, 2017 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Forest Ecosystem, Mt. Kanla-on, Protected Areas, Species Conservation, Wildlife Species | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Commendable collective efforts: Putting off grassfires in Mt. Kanla-on

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

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Grassfires occurred in MKNP last week. Photo from the FB Page of Andre Untal*

It was a relief when we finally learned late last week that the grassfire in the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island was finally contained and put out. Firefighters braved the scourging heat of both the summer and fire, while also risking their lives from possible volcanic eruption just to make sure that the fire will no longer spread in other areas of the MKNP. The blaze was triggered after the Kanla-on Volcano spewed fiery materials on the night of March 29, affecting the grasslands surrounding the active crater.

The Kanla-on Volcano is still under alert level 1, as raised by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, because it continues to indicate unrest. The possibility of phreatic explosions still remains. Phreatic explosions are steam-driven that usually occur when magma, lava, and hot rocks, or new volcanic deposits heat the water beneath the ground, or on the surface, the PHIVOLCS described. Ash falls occurred in several instances due to phreatic explosions of the volcano during the past months.

Negros Occidental Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Andre Untal said the fire out was made possible because of the concerted efforts of various national and local governments, with support from numerous volunteers. The Negros Island Region of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, with regional director Al Orolfo at the helm, was on top of the situation. Untal and MKNP Protected Area Superintendent Joan Nathaniel Gerangaya and their personnel were at the ground for the firefighting operation, while other DENR units in the region came to the rescue, too.

Untal acknowledged the support of the provincial government, particularly Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr., who immediately allocated P3 million to support the curtailment of grassfire from spreading in forested areas of the MKNP. The governor mobilized the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Unit, and the Bureau of Fire Protection and Office of the Civil Defense in the province to assist the task in putting out the grassfire.

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The crater of the Kanla-on Volcano. Photo from the FB page of Andre Untal*

What is also inspiring was the support, not only of the local government unit of La Castellana, where the fire was happening within its administrative jurisdiction, but all other LGUs in Negros Occidental, when they sent their fire officers, personnel, and rescue teams to assist in putting out the flame. At the time of the incident, the Kanla-on Volcano was still on alert level 1 for possible phreatic explosion, and entering at the four-kilometer radius from the crater, where the fire was occurring, was strictly prohibited. Untal said the PHIVOLCS provided the necessary guidance in the firefighting efforts by closely monitoring the volcanic activity. About 300 hectares of grasslands were torched because of the said volcanic activity.

It can be told once again that surrounding communities of the volcano are the most reliable frontliners and partners in disaster responses, like firefighting, when they joined forces with other groups in securing the MKNP from destructive fire. I am particularly proud of the Kanla-on Green Brigades that, through time, have never hesitated to risk their lives to protect the MKNP, which they call their very own home. In his thank-you message posted on Facebook, Untal singled out the efforts of KGBs in the firefighting operation.

During the Holy Week, similar incident of grassfire happened just below the crater. With the timely response from communities, the grassfire was immediately put out. Untal claimed that illegal trekkers, who forced their way to the crater during the Holy Week in spite of the imposition of the trekking ban at that time, might have caused the fire, which scorched about 100 hectares of grasslands. Under existing regulations, the MKNP is close to trekking activities once PHIVOLCS declared volcanic alert level in this mountain known as one of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines. The trekkers have already been identified and may face legal charges, Untal added.

There is no doubt that the fire-affected grasslands will immediately recover at the onset of the rainy season. But it is also important to note that the grassland surrounding the volcano is a natural ecosystem. Given the soil condition at the vicinity of the volcano, only grasses will thrive in the site. However, since it is a natural ecosystem, it also plays crucial roles for other organisms that are thriving in the area. In fact, two species of grasses available at the surrounding area of the crater require further studies because they are suspected to be endemic only in the place. Grasses also help in the prevention of soil erosion.

These laudable efforts in curtailing the recent fires that occurred in the MKNP showcased the collective and tireless efforts of both government and nongovernment institutions and even individuals in making a difference regardless of how difficult and challenging the task at hand. It would have been a more tragic event when those grassfires were not prevented from spreading to nearby forested areas of the MKNP.

I could only hope further that similar serious efforts will be in place in Negros to finally protect the remaining natural ecosystems, without compromise, and rehabilitate and restore the denuded ones. After all, our natural ecosystems are our life support systems. My heartfelt appreciation and congratulations to all firefighting volunteers for a job well done in putting out the fires in the MKNP, and, indeed, your efforts are worth sharing, since conservation matters. Kudos to all of you!*

April 4, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments