By Henrylito D. Tacio
During our history lessons when I was still in high school, I learned that the Philippines was known as the “Pearl of the Orient Seas.” I deduce the 7,107 islands it owns are one of the reasons why it earned such a sobriquet.
It is these islands, which are set apart, that make the country one of the 18 mega-biodiverse countries of the world, containing two-thirds of the earth’s biodiversity and between 70% to 80% of the global plant and animal species, according to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Consider this astounding fact: Our country ranks fifth in the number of plant species and maintains 5% of the world’s flora. Species endemism is very high, covering at least 25 genera of plants and 49% of terrestrial wildlife, while it ranks fourth in bird endemism.
Unfortunately, our country is also one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots with at least 700 threatened faunal species, thus making it one of the top global conservation areas, the CBD stated.
Among the nine endangered species from our country are Philippine eagle, tamaraw, Philippine crocodile, Walden’s hornbill, net coral, Visayan warty pig, tarsier, Philippine forest turtle, and Negros bleeding heart.
Unknown to many, our country is part of the center of diversity of rice, coconut, mung bean, taro, and yam, as well as the center of origin and diversity of bananas in Southeast Asia. “Yet, this agricultural biodiversity is nowadays experiencing general decline, as is the land devoted to these activities,” CBD said.
Biological diversity (biodiversity for short), defined as “all the different kinds of species you’ll find in one area,” does not only denote the flora and fauna but also the ecosystems, the habitats where they thrive.
In our country, deforestation (forest denudation and fragmentation) is the main culprit of habit destruction, thereby threatening the wildlife species dwelling in them. Take the case of the endangered Philippine eagle. “This species is a true forest raptor and relies on pristine primary forest in which to hunt, build its nest and raise its young,” said the Peregrine Fund.
Logging is the primary perpetrator as it fells countless trees each year. It also built roads to access more and more remote forests leading to further deforestation. Logged-over areas are often converted to kaingin cultivation (slash-and-burn agriculture), further clearing them of remaining vegetation.
Our country has already lost almost 93% of its original forest cover since the 1990s.
Most of the deforestation happens in the uplands, where human migration takes place as the lowland areas are already jampacked with people. “Hunting, poaching and flora collection follow human migration into upland areas, aggravating the threat to wildlife,” the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund deplored.
But there is so much ado about biodiversity?
Agriculture and fisheries make up about 15% of our gross domestic product (GDP), former environment Ramon J.P. Paje pointed out. “Farmers, fishermen and women are typically the poorest and the most dependent on natural resources for their lives and livelihoods,” he explained on why biodiversity conservation matters so much for our country.
“Ecosystem services, which underpin these sectors, are essential to sustain our country’s economic growth,” Paje said in a World Bank interview. “Moreover, ecotourism has contributed greatly to our revenue.
“Natural destinations such as protected areas, beaches, dive sites, caves, rivers and lakes and the wildlife found there continue to attract both local and foreign tourists,” Paje continued. “This is a major boost to local jobs and the wider national economy.”
In terms of natural disasters, our country has it all: earthquakes, volcano eruptions, landslides, strong winds and rains, floods, and typhoons. Every year, at least 20 typhoons enter our area of responsibility.
The Asian Development Bank estimates that losses from typhoons and earthquakes cost our country around $1.6 billion each year. The annual typhoons alone shave 0.8% point off our annual GDP growth.
“This makes protecting our biodiversity doubly important,” Paje pointed out.
Thus, the Philippine Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (PBSAP) 2015-2028 came into fruition. It is “a strategic instrument, whose vision is that by 2028, biodiversity is restored and rehabilitated, valued, effectively managed and secured, maintaining ecosystem services to sustain healthy, resilient Filipino communities and delivering benefits to all.”
That’s a tall order. But can these be achieved?
The PBSAP, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, integrates and mainstreams the CBD objectives into the national development and sectoral planning frameworks that includes measurable targets for CBD commitments.”
The Philippines is one of the countries which signed the CBD that was adopted in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992. The CBD objectives are: conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its component, and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.
Another good thing is the establishment of the integrated protected area system (IPAS). This was set up to protect and preserve a representative sample of all ecosystems and habitat types in our country, as well as their plant and animal species.
Let’s help protect our biodiversity, our natural heritage. “Without biodiversity, our entire support system for humans, as well as animal life, would collapse. We rely on nature to provide us with food and clean water, for a lot of medicines, and to prevent flooding and other extreme weather effects,” the ClintEarth stressed.
Perhaps the statement of Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi is a reminder: “There is sufficiency for man’s need, but not for man’s greed”