Monday, April 13, 2015
Global Experts Praise Rich Philippine Biodiversity, Call for Protection
International scientists at the 24th Philippine Biodiversity Symposium in UEP, Catarman discuss what makes the Philippines “the Galapagos times twenty” and why it could all disappear in the face of climate change and human threat.
Many see the Galapagos as a mecca of nature, a group of islands teeming with endemic wildlife made famous by Darwin’s theory of evolution. But contrary to this belief, the Philippines has a far richer landscape and a more diverse seascape.
It is with this reason that international and local scientists and conservationists are gathering in the University of Eastern Philippines (UEP) in Catarman, Northern Samar for the 24th Philippine Biodiversity Symposium on April 14 to 17. An annual conference organized by the Biodiversity Conservation Society of the Philippines (BCSP), the symposium this year focuses on the theme “Island Biodiversity Conservation: Successes, Challenges and Future Direction”.
These experts and researchers will discuss the state of flora and fauna in the country, celebrating its abundance while also examining its vulnerability due to extreme weather events and climate change and human-induced threats such as rapid development resulting to habitat loss and illegal trade.
Dr. Lawrence Heaney, curator and head of the Division of Mammals at the Field Museum in Chicago and one of the keynote speakers of the symposium, says, “It has long been recognized that the Philippines has an exceptionally high concentration of mammalian endemism and diversity, but recent research has resulted in the discovery of substantially more species than known previously.”
The Philippines is, thus, no longer identified as “the Galapagos times ten” but “the Galapagos times twenty” by the Field Museum.
However, more than the range of mammal species in the country, what is important to note is how studying this diversity through in-depth data technologies will lead to understanding the Philippine archipelago, explainsDr. Heaney. Knowing how certain animals evolved could point to the origin, growth and changes in the islands, which could determine its future as well as the future of the animals and people that inhabit them.
More than ever, assessing the country’s natural resources is a vital undertaking. Currently, despite the magnitude of biodiversity in the Philippines, it has the highest number of critically endangered species among ASEAN countries. This is based on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) Red List of Threatened Species.
In addition, global pressing issues like food and water security highlight the dwindling number of plants and wildlife, raising the question whether ecosystem services are sustainable. The changing environment is also an undeniable concern, particularly the pace of urban and rural development that oftentimes results in indiscriminate land clearing and the threat of climate change. National scientist Angel Alcala, director of the Silliman University-Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management (SUAKREM) and one of the keynote speakers, will tackle the “Future of Philippine Biodiversity in the Face of Climate Change” at the symposium.
Dr. Alcala says that while terrestrial and marine species have survived global climate changes in the past, “the difference between the past and the present is the important role of human beings as a dominant factor that could influence the survival of biodiversity”.
Using his 50-year research on marine protected areas, particularly Apo Island, and his 60-year research on amphibians and reptiles, he will showcase the impacts caused by human-induced factors and climate change.
Similarly, Dr. Ferry Slik, associate professor and Herbarium Curator at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam in Brunei, along with Filipino conservationists such as Carla Monoy and Dr. Sandra Yap, will be conducting a workshop on monitoring forest ecosystems in a changing environment. But unlike the usual practice of surveying areas of land or plots focusing solely on either plants or animals, the highlight of this discussion is how Dr. Slik and others are initiating multi-taxonomic plots. This entails monitoring different taxa or species in the forest by collaborating with researchers from other institutions to get a wider and longer understanding of how ecological processes are affected by the changing environment.
More than an academic conference, the 24th Philippine Biodiversity Symposium allows biologists and environmentalists to connect with government leaders, policymakers and other stakeholders to develop legislation and partnerships that will enable the protection and conservation of forests, critically threatened species, and other ecosystems. The symposium also aims to empower teachers to improve their environmental science curriculum since part of ensuring biodiversity protection is having a sustainable supply of wildlife scientists and conservationists in the years to come.
Other symposium activities include an institutional fair where organizations can present posters on conservation and biodiversity research, concurrent scientific presentations, workshops and post-symposium day tours. These field trips – organized by 2015 symposium host, University of Eastern Philippines – consist of visiting nationally declared ecotourism zones: Biri Island Rock Formation, Capul Island, and Dalupiri Island.
The 24th Philippine Biodiversity Symposium is supported by the Office of the Presidential Adviser for Environmental Protection, the provincial government of Northern Samar, Crocodylus Porosus Philippines, Inc., RARE, Bat Conservation International, Biodiversity Institute of the University of Kansas, University of Oklahoma’s Sam Noble Museum, Primer-CORE, Fauna & Flora International-UK, Mabuwaya Foundation, Katala Foundation, Inc., Haribon Foundation, Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc., Isla Biodiversity Conservation, Inc. and the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.