A 96-page book holds the key for local governments and other stakeholders to understand the need to preserve Cebu’s biodiversity.
“The State of Cebu’s Biodiversity,” written by Lisa J. Paguntalan, Myrissa Lepiten-Tabao, Philip Godfrey Jakosalem, Al Orolfo and Ariel Rica, contains information on wildlife and plant species that stress the importance of preserving Cebu’s biological diversity.
It also provides a summary of the issues that threaten the existence of these species and the efforts—some of them successful, others not so—which were undertaken through the years to protect what serves as Cebu’s natural heritage.
Paguntalan said during the book’s launching last Monday that “The State of Cebu’s Biodiversity” also highlights the importance of Cebu’s remaining forests that serve as habitat for species, some of which are classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) as critically endangered or those that face extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
A 1998 survey by wildlife biologists led to the discovery of natural secondary forests apart from Tabunan in central Cebu. These forests are Nug-as in Alcoy, Mt. Kapayas in Catmon and Carmen, Mt. Lantoy in Argao, Mt. Lanaya in Alegria and Mt. Kambulagsing in Malabuyoc.
These forests are the home of 15 endemic bird taxa, which include four threatened species, namely the critically endangered Cebu Flowerpecker (scientific name Dicaeum quadricolor), the endangered Black Shama (Copsychus cebuensis), the endangered Cebu Hawk-owl (Ninox rumseyi) and the Cebu Brown Dove (Phapitreron frontalis).
“The presence of these four threatened endemic species makes the (Cebu) island an important global Endemic Bird Area and an Important Bird Area according to BirdLife International,” the authors wrote.
Birds play an important role in the ecosystem. They help in plant reproduction as they are considered pollinators or seed dispersers. Some bird species are important to the survival of other species while predators, such as raptors, keep the population of other animals healthy.
Massive deforestation in Cebu drove to extinction several endemic species, such as the Philippine Cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia) and the Philippine Leafbird (Chloropsis flavipennis).
Mammalian species, such as the Visayan Spotted Deer, Visayan Warty Pig and the Cebu Pygmy Buffalo, have also disappeared from Cebu island. An endemic fish, a species of goby (Sicyopus cebuensis), also became extinct.
Aside from deforestation, Cebu’s biodiversity also faces threats from population growth, rapid urbanization, hunting, small-scale mining, bird’s nest collection, release of exotic species, use of harmful chemicals in agriculture and lack of waste management, among others.
Conflicting policies and weak enforcement of laws also add to the further degradation of Cebu’s biodiversity.
In 2006, the National Government, through the DENR, identified “key biodiversity areas” (KBAs) to establish biodiversity conservation priorities and programs.
“Along a premise of really addressing the relevant issues and concerns of biodiversity, the DENR has strengthened its office by renaming our Protected Area and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) to Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) because we consider biodiversity as the mother of all environmental concerns,” DENR 7 Regional Executive Director Isabelo Montejo said during the launching of the book.
He said the BMB’s mission is conserve the country's biological diversity through the establishment, management and development of the National Integrated Protected Areas System; conservation of wildlife resources; and nature conservation information and education.
Montejo said that the BMB promotes not only individual KBAs but also a system or network of KBAs.
The change from PAWB to BMB did not just involve a different acronym.
“The State of Cebu’s Biodiversity” authors said that some KBAs are outside legislated protected areas. “There are certain protected areas with no biodiversity value and were perhaps established for political reasons,” they noted.
KBAs in Cebu are: Nug-as and Mt. Lantoy; Mt. Lanaya-Mt. Kambulagsing; Tabunan Forests; Mactan, Kalawisan and Cansaga Bays; and Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary.
The book proposes the establishment of the Northern Cebu KBA, which covers existing forests in Catmon, Carmen, Tabuelan, Sogod and Tuburan, and the Camotes Islands KBA.
“The State of Cebu’s Biodiversity” was published with the support of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE), Chester Zoo, the Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Population and the Metropolitan Cebu Water District.