Biodiversity team out to save Boracay’s Puka shells, flying foxes

Buried in the noise created by the plan to close Boracay is the specter of losing unique species—particularly the flying fox bats and Puka shells—due to the island’s overcrowding.

But the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is aware of this threat, which is why it sent a seven-man team, headed by Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim of the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB), to Boracay to assess the population of the Puka shell, flying fox bats and other species, whose population on the island have been observed to be dwindling over the past several years.

“Their mission is to conduct an assessment and make recommendations to the secretary. One of their missions is the Puka Shell Beach.  It is home to the Puka shell,” Undersecretary Jonas R. Leones, the designated spokesman of Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, told the BusinessMirror.

Lim is a veterinarian and expert in marine turtle conservation.  Other members are experts in their own fields; a wildlife expert, wetlands expert, two marine experts in science, and a Geographic Information System specialist. The team is also accompanied by an expert on Boracay.

Puka shells are bead-like objects that can be found on beaches and common in Hawaii.

The Philippines—specifically Boracay—has a variety of Puka shell species that can be found in one specific beach, hence, the name Puka Shell Beach.

While Boracay is known for its white-sand beaches and pristine waters, the Puka Shell Beach is unique because of its finer grains of white sand.

“Puka shells and fragments of Puka shells make up substantially the sands in Puka Beach and responsible for insulating the sand. That is why even when it is hot in other areas, the sand on Puka Beach is colder,” Lim said.

Lim added initial assessment of the wetlands is frustrating.  “Some wetlands are already gone,” she said.

On a positive note, she said some coral areas on Puka Beach show positive signs.

“There are new coral recruits, so there is hope.  There are also live Puka shells. The population of the bats is declining,” she said.

Puka shells are being overharvested, so it must be stopped  “before it is too late,” Lim added.

On the flying foxes, she said the government needs to strengthen protection of caves where they dwell.  There are five caves on the island, three of them previously classified by the DENR-BMB as having unique features, including being home to bats.

Flying foxes are also being hunted by locals for food.

The team is coming up with a comprehensive report on their assessment and recommendations.

Impact on workers

Meanwhile, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said it is now crafting a contingency plan to address the possible impact of the planned closure of Boracay to workers.

In a text message, Johnson G. Cañete, DOLE Region 6 director and Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board  (RTWPB-6) chairman, disclosed that they have yet to receive any response from Malacañang on their appeal on the planned closure.

He said they will be meeting on Thursday with the employers and workers in Boracay to determine the aid they will need in case the top tourist destination in Western Visayas becomes temporarily off limits to tourists.

“The DOLE Aklan Field Office will be convening the Boracay Industry Tripartite Council tomorrow [March 8]. One of the agenda is the impending threat of the Boracay closure and its effect to members of the council,” Cañete said.

DOLE Undersecretary Joel B. Maglunsod said they are ready to extend emergency employment and livelihood aid to the affected workers.

“They can really help in the cleaning of Boracay while they are without jobs during the closure,” Maglunsod said.

He said they will start the program as soon as the DOLE-Region 6 completes the profiling of the affected workers.

Last week it was reported the RTWPB-6 submitted a signed resolution urging President Duterte to reconsider the closure of Boracay Island, which may displace 17,000 to 19,000 workers.

With Samuel P. Medenilla





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