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Cheers, jeers on PHL’s biodiversity conservation

With key biodiversity information and knowledge, we can protect and conserve biodiversity and aim for a better, shared future for all life.

The Philippines joined the world in celebrating the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDBD) on May 22.

With the theme “Building a Shared Future for all Life,” the celebration also marked the launching of the Year of the Protected Areas (YoPA) campaign.

Together with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Department of Tourism, and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and in partnership with the United Nations Development Program‘s Biodiversity Finance Initiative, the YoPA campaign online launching focused on the importance of setting aside areas for conservation in the face of massive species extinction amid the global pandemic caused by the dreaded Covid-19.

Essential to human survival

In his speech during the event, Environment Acting Secretary Jim Sampulna highlighted the establishment of protected areas and national parks as essential to the survival of humanity because they serve as critical habitats for wild animals and plants.

“Protected areas prevent the spread of diseases if left undisturbed. Intrusion into protected areas increases the chances of wildlife coming into contact with human beings, thereby allowing the spread of zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19 people,” said Sampulna, a forester.

He also highlighted the role of protected areas in providing livelihood to the communities that act as stewards of conservation.

Protected areas, Sampulna added, also bring income to communities, including to Indigenous People, through ecotourism, plus its role of providing food and medicine.

Building a resilient future

Dr. Theresa Mundita S. Lim, executive director of the Asean Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), said that in the IDBD, the call to act fast together and to build a more resilient future has become even clearer.

According to Lim, in such an endeavor, biodiversity is the foundation upon which the world can build back better.

“This year, we are bound to make history as we are set to finalize and eventually implement the post-2020 global biodiversity framework: an ambitious plan composed of 21 targets and 10 milestones that will serve as a guide to transform and mend our broken relationship with nature,” Lim said in a press statement.

“The road to living in harmony with nature is never without bumps, but every step we will take, from this day forward, counts. Raising people’s awareness of today’s challenges is of paramount importance as all our efforts will be futile if the root causes are not known and identified,” she added.

Asean Biodiversity Dashboard

The ACB, which acts as a regional center of excellence for biodiversity and mandated to facilitate cooperation in the region, has recently launched the Asean Biodiversity Dashboard, to provide up-to-date biodiversity knowledge that can be used for informed and science-based decisions- and policy-making.

The online platform presents trends and geographic differences in biodiversity data and indicators used worldwide in a visual format.

“Through this interactive and ergonomic platform, shareable biodiversity information relevant to Asean can be accessed easily with just a few clicks,“ Lim explained.

In the dashboard, she said, „You will be able to view trends in the status of biodiversity in the Asean region through time.”

The platform serves as a repository of biodiversity data and information from the Asean member states (AMS), thus, underscoring the importance of  comprehensive transboundary information and knowledge sharing among the AMS to better understand the status of the region’s biodiversity, Lim said.

By having the means to measure and approximate the state and health of ecosystems and species, Lim said Asean can develop concrete and more practical solutions and actions toward achieving national targets and contributing to regional and a more ambitious global biodiversity targets. 

Significant gains

The Philippines, a country blessed with rich biodiversity, is faced with preventing biodiversity loss amid the pandemic.

Over the past three years, the community lockdowns that led to restricted movement have resulted in positive or significant gains for the environment and biodiversity in general.

Lim noted that the passage of the Expanded National Integrated Protected Area Systems Act of 2018 and additional protected areas legislations—such as Republic Acts 11684, 11685, 11686, 11687 and 11688—that added Mount Arayat in Pampanga, Mount Pulag in Benguet, Naga-Kabasalan in Zamboanga Sibugay, Tirad Pass in Ilocos Sur, and Banao in Kalinga to the list of areas protected under the National Integrated Protected Areas System, are worth mentioning.

Such development, Lim noted, is paving the way for increased investments in protected areas and biodiversity in the country.

‘Anthropause’

  Lim noted that the effects of the global pandemic led to an “anthropause,” or the a global reduction in modern human activity, especially travel, that gave people an opportunity to re-examine their relationship with nature.

“Biodiversity was given time to recover a bit, and the increased awareness on zoonosis [disease caused by germs that spread between animals and people] seemed to have resulted in more caution on handling wildlife species implicated in viral transmissions… and increased vigilance in combating illegal wildlife trade,” she said.

More importantly, Lim said because of the pandemic, more people are now appreciating the outdoors and nature, especially after the long lockdowns, including the appreciation for urban biodiversity, backyard planting and gardening.

Increased awareness

For Emerson Sy, a wildlife conservation advocate and illegal wildlife trade watchdog, the past three years have taught Filipinos a lot about the importance of protecting and conserving biodiversity.

Specifically, he said the campaign against illegal wildlife trade became stronger amid the pandemic, noting that despite the community lockdowns that restricted the movements across the country, law enforcers, including that of the DENR, were able to score big in the fight against illegal wildlife trade.

“Despite the pandemic, the campaign against illegal wildlife trade never stopped. Right now, you will notice that people, even in social media, are really helping out and they know which agency to report the illegal activities now, unlike before,” Sy told the BusinessMirror in a telephone interview on May 25.

Something is lacking

Lawyer Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines, an ocean advocacy nongovernment organization, agreed that there’s increased awareness, especially among the younger generation, but said policy-makers lack positive action to truly protect and conserve biodiversity.

For one, Ramos said policy-makers should prioritize biodiversity conservation and protection in terms of budget allocation.

“In terms of awareness, we gained a lot, especially the youth. But [from] our policy-makers, we need action,” Ramos said in mix of English and Filipino in a telephone interview on May 25.

Cheers and jeers

Ramos also criticized the DENR for “entertaining” and even issuing environmental compliance certificates for environmentally critical projects like the massive land reclamations in Manila Bay and other areas in the country.

“Why are we still entertaining them while we should be protecting the integrity of our marine habitats, because of climate change and the pandemic?  All they think of is profit, profit, profit,” she said, citing the multi-billion airport project in Bulakan, Bulacan. 

Nevertheless, she lauded the DILG led by Secretary  Eduardo Año  for issuing Memorandum Circular 2022-018.

“The circular is now requiring LGUs [local government units] to sign under oath that they have ensured compliance with all the mechanism and safeguard to protect the environment before allowing any projects.  That is very good! Kudos to the DILG!” she said partly in Filipino.

Challenges ahead

According to Lim, the challenge posed by protecting and conserving biodiversity amid the global pandemic like the loss of jobs and revenues, particularly from community-based tourism activities is daunting.  

She said some affected individuals around nature tourism areas were driven to resort to poaching and illegal collection of plants, birds and insects as livelihood and source of income.

Another big challenge, she said, is what she described as ”revenge” travel and the desire to recoup lost income from tourism during the pandemic which has already resulted in overcrowding in some nature areas, possibly exceeding carrying capacities.

One more serious concern is the notable increase in the use of PET bottles and plastics, and improper disposal of masks and face shields which is affecting waterways and marine biodiversity.

Lastly, the recent lifting of the ban on open-pit mining to hasten economic recovery is likely to result in a possible setback in terms of biodiversity conservation and protection.

“Without biodiversity-focused safeguards and due regard to impacts on unique vegetation and habitats, and adjacent coastal and marine biological resources, this is going to be a serious concern in our efforts to protect and harness the potential value of our biodiversity,” Lim explained. 

Image credits: Kyaw Kyaw Winn, ACB



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