Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Las Farolas: A Living Museum of Ornamental Freshwater Fishes

Wazzup Pilipinas!

The world - in the midst of economic development and unprecedented advances in technology – faces an uncertain future as far as conservation and preservation of the environment is concerned. Rapid industrialization, massive deforestation, and other unscrupulous and indiscriminate ways of man have led to the deterioration of the environment and climate change whose ugly manifestations – landslide, flooding, and the unusual weather – have cost lives and properties.

The scale and magnitude of this environmental catastrophe gave rise to such international organizations as the World Wide Fund for Nature established in 1986 (its predecessor was the World Wide Fund conceived in 1961 and initially covered the protection of endangered animals). It mission is to stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is available, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

One aspect of the environment which is adversely affected by man’s wicked activities is the freshwater biodiversity which is among the most threatened in the world. Human activities such as overfishing, pollution, and economic development have pushed a number of species to the brink of extinction. Estimates show that 7.5 million people depend on freshwater fish for food and income. It was reported by British scientists that freshwater fish are the most endangered group of animals on the planet with more than a third threatened with extinction.

In the interim results of its Red List assessment of freshwater fish, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) raised warnings about the precarious state of the species. The Red List, with a set standard for specie listing and conservation efforts, is the most comprehensive inventory of the conservation status of the world’s plant and animal specie. Regularly making assessments on the status of species around the world, IUCN discovered 15,000 freshwater fish species, the status of 5,685 species of which had been assessed.

The Philippines is no exception to this phenomenon. Despite its rich biodiversity, the country was among the world’s biodiversity hotspots due to natural and man-made factors. It was considered as the "hottest of the hotspots" by the IUCN. The IUCN noted that there are 52,177 freshwater fishes in the country, 418 of which are threatened.

Apathy or lack of political will, inadequate government support, lack of understanding of the other potentials of our local freshwater species such as ornamental purposes continue to bug the local industry in its efforts to be the major stakeholder in freshwater fish conservation and protection efforts, make headways and be viable just like in the league of some of our Asian neighbors where the industry is thriving and lucrative.

It’s a long way to go before any comprehensive, honest-to-goodness freshwater fish conservation program effectively takes off and sustained. Concerted efforts by the lead government agencies, Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and private advocacy groups, though commendable, are inadequate. This is where the aquarists/fishkeepers, whose role is growing in importance, will play a pivotal and effective role. Aquarists are helping to maintain species that are essentially extinct in the wild. By keeping these species and population viable, the fish-keeping community is protecting them against extinction. When and if reintroduction to natural habitats is possible, it will be to the credit of aquarists. Aquarists can do their part in preventing the further extinction of some freshwater fish.

It is in this light that Las Farolas was conceived four years ago as its proponents’ contribution to the conservation, protection, and research/scientific efforts for the rich biodiversity of both the endemic and exotic freshwater aquatic resources.

The multi-million peso establishment located within the amusement center of the sprawling Tiendesitas en Frontera Verde on Ortigas Ave., Pasig City is billed as the first-of-its-kind in the world showcasing the widest collection of and 100% exotic, weird, strange, bizarre and monstrous-looking freshwater species from various continents.

With a theme park concept, Las Farolas has been envisioned to propel the country into the global map of tourist destinations considering its state-of-the-art facilities which are at par with world standards.

Las Farolas is a brainchild of the late Don Rafael Ortigas and Moment Philippines Theme Park Planner and Management Corporation led by Henry G. Babiera. The two, with shared ideas of some members of the Ortigas family, brainstormed and eventually came up with the facility with a noble purpose. Don Rafael Ortigas, who had a vast collection of Filipiniana books, conceived the incorporation of the cultural landmarks into the facility with the book, "La Casa de Dios" as his basis. He also adopted the lighthouse idea from "Sentinel of the Sea" book which was part of his personal Filipiniana book collections.

Babiera, a staunch conservationist himself and currently the president of PHILZOOS, a national organization of zoo and aquaria operators in the Philippines and Philippine Country Representative to the Board of Directors of the Southeast Asia Zoo and Aquaria Association (SEAZA), explained the rationale behind the coining of Las Farolas, which in English means lighthouses. "If lighthouses were built as beacon to mariners, Las Farolas is a beacon to all, or pantawag-pansin, to take a look at the richness of our aquatic resources and our colorful history and culture." Las Farolas consists of two 2-storey hubs. The second floor of the hubs features biotops housing the freshwater exotic fishes. It also showcases replicas of prominent features of centuries-old churches in the Philippines, selected tribal and cultural artifacts, and houses of indigenous people in a diorama.

Las Farolas was uniquely designed from the entrance to the interior. At the entrance are the imposing lighthouse and colorful artworks. As the guest enters the second floor, he goes through labyrinth-like and mysterious corridors as he views the freshwater exotic fishes.

On the ground floor, there are provisions for booths that will cater to specific market segments, offer additional treats, and sell merchandising collateral in line with, related to or relevant to fishes and/or aquatic life.

Indeed, after a long wait, Las Farolas has arrived, exuding a new optimism and renewed energy to be in the mainstream of endeavors to conserve and protect freshwater aquatic resources. While the core of its mission is to showcase freshwater exotic fishes, Las Farolas will act as a platform for educational and research activities through an interactive classroom to impart knowledge on aquatic life and sustainable means by which man can combat the threat of its extinction.

Las Farolas, with all its spectacle and outrageous designs, was unveiled last Wednesday, April 24, 2013  at 5:30 P.M with grand colorful inaugural rites. Top government officials, businessmen, celebrities and representatives from NGOs graced the event. It opened to the public the following day, April 25. Las Farolas will operate from 9:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M., Mondays to Sundays.

For more information, please call these landlines: 8268162 & 8203013 or email:
*written by Carlos Ardosa for Las Farolas

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