TYPHOON Pablo (international codename: Bhopa) killed hundreds of people and displaced millions in Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental, and other parts of the country. The reason why there was a huge turned out of casualty was because of deforestation in the affected areas.
But even before that happened, there was already a lot of unrecorded deaths and displacement as people devoid the areas of their forest cover. We are referring to the biological diversity (biodiversity) that inhabited these places that used to be far from human activities.
The Philippines is one of the world’s richest depositories of biodiversity, but its marine and wildlife riches are under threat because of intrusive manmade activities, according to Undersecretary Demetrio Ignacio of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
“The Philippines is one of the most threatened in the world. The rate of extinction of species is 1,000 times the natural rate because of manmade activities,” Ignacio said. “It is a crisis. We are the hottest of the hot spots.”
The Philippines is the world’s second largest archipelago country after Indonesia. It comprises more than 7,100 islands covering 297,179 square kilometers in the westernmost Pacific Ocean. The country has 400 out of 500 coral species known in the world.
“Every time we go in the water, someone discovers something that’s never been seen before,” said Dr. Terrence Gosliner, dean of science and research collections at the California Academy of Sciences who headed the 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition.
Despite being tagged as one of the “hottest of the hotspots,” Dr. Gosliner believed that the biodiversity in the Philippines remains relatively unknown. He’s not alone; many scientists think that many new species remain to be discovered in the country.
Just recently, Secretary Ramon Paje of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources reported that 270 wildlife species that have been discovered in the country within the last 25 years.
“These endemic species are our living jewels. They are irreplaceable and unique components of our awesome environmental heritage,” Paje pointed out. “The prospects for their discovery have simply increased because our forest cover has shrunk, making the species more concentrated in more compact areas while we await the growth of trees in our reforestation efforts.”
Dr. Angel C. Alcala, former DENR secretary and current director of the Silliman University Angelo King Center for Research and Management, warned that many terrestrial animal and plant species are endangered thanks to illegal logging, slash-and-burn farming, and over-harvesting.
Other threats to the country’s biodiversity are illegal trading, the introduction of invasive species, pollution, and climate change.
But the biggest threat comes from the people themselves. The Philippines is now home to almost 93 million Filipinos, whose livelihoods are highly dependent on natural resources.
“Severe rural poverty and a high population growth rate (2.2 percent) and density (273 people per square kilometer) have put enormous pressure on the remaining forests,” Conservational International (CI) said.
Other imminent threats to forests include mining and land conversion. In 1997, regions where mining activities took place covered one-quarter of the country and included more than half of the remaining primary forest.
“The country’s development objectives, which include road network development, irrigation, power and energy projects, and planned ports and harbors, still need to be harmonized with biodiversity conservation goals,” CI said.
A recent news release said the environment department – through its line agency, the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau – is embarking on a project to boost biodiversity conservation effort in five key biogeographic regions in the Philippines.
Called “Partnership for Biodiversity Conservation: Mainstreaming in Local Agricultural Landscapes/Biodiversity Partnerships Project,” it aims to align the economic and ecological development initiatives that include those recently affected by Typhoon Pablo: Davao Oriental in Davao region and Agusan del Sur in Caraga region.
“Saving a species is more than a simple matter of putting it in a cage or pot,” Paje said. “It requires us to protect or rebuild its habitat, as well as the balance it keeps in relation to other species lower and higher in the food chain or web of life.”