“The Philippines is jam-packed with diverse and threatened species—it’s one of the most astounding regions of biodiversity on Earth.”
This is a simple yet meaningful statement from Dr. Terry Gosliner of the California Academy of Sciences who led the expedition on the Verde Island Passage, delivered at the 2015 celebration of the World Ocean’s Day. What he said about the country’s biodiversity is something that Filipinos can be proud of, beyond his words, Filipinos should really be concerned.
Read on to find out why.
A megadiverse country
The Philippines is the second largest archipelagic country in the world after Indonesia. It is a tropical country which includes more than 7,100 islands covering 277,179 km2 in the western part of the Pacific Ocean.
Moreover, it is one of the 17 countries considered “megadiverse” and is among the top priority hotspots for global conservation because the country consists of 70 to 80% of the world’s biodiversity (Foundation for the Philippine Environment, 2014).
Megadiverse countries, as a concept, were established by Russell A. Mittemeier of the Conservation International in 1998 in order to facilitate global conservation efforts (McGinley, 2013).
Owing to its richly varied geographic features and favorable location, the Philippines has been able to support numerous species of plants and animals throughout time. According to Catibog-Sinha and Heaney (2006), there are over 38,000 animal species. Moreover, DENR-Biodiversity Management Bureau estimated that as of 2013, species of plants ranges over 16,000. These numbers include species that can only be found in the Philippines.
Diverse but threatened
Like what some people say, it is not all good news. Despite having an incredible diversity of species of plants and animals, the Philippines is also home to several endangered species, some of which are endemic.
In 2013, more than 71,576 species across the world are included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, 21,286 of which are threatened with extinction.
The Philippines, on the other hand, is recorded to have a total of 737 threatened species: 38 mammals; 74 birds; 39 reptiles; 48 amphibians; 72 fishes; 3 mollusks; 234 other invertebrates; and 229 plants. These numbers however, according to IUCN, are still tentative as many species have not yet been assessed for the IUCN Red List.
The organization also suspects that some of the species in the country may already be extinct even before introduced to science.
These alarming data require a lot of concern not only from the government but also from Filipinos. In 2011, the Philippine government reiterated the need for a “concerted human action” against climate change and save biodiversity. Environmental Secretary Ramon Paje stressed the importance of human intervention since most species are especially vulnerable to loss of habitat.
Various organizations, government and non-government, and individuals launched programs to help save the Philippine environment and the endangered species living in identified habitats. There is Save the Philippine Seas Organization which focuses on the conservation of marine ecosystem. GENESYS, Inc. is also present and currently implements environment restoration and protection. Haribon Foundation, a pioneer environment organization continues to lead in caring for nature with people and for the people.
Education at the heart of organization
PUSOD, Inc. is a non-stock, non-profit organization whose mission is to “protect and enhance the ecosystems of the Philippines”. Since its establishment in 2004, PUSOD Inc. has conducted several advocacy and environment projects, mainly by supporting community programs centered on biodiversity expeditions in different sites in the Philippines. They have been the partners of the California Academy of Science’s biodiversity expeditions in the Philippines since 2011 together with various universities and research institutions in the country.
The organization helps facilitate biodiversity surveys of plants, fishes, arthropods, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals in several sites in Luzon aimed at discovering new life.
PUSOD Inc. also believes that studying and understanding data gathered in expeditions should be employed to enhance public education, public policy, management strategies, and individual choices regarding conservation and ecosystem services.
At the end of each expedition, PUSOD conducts an Education Outreach program where they inform the public what transpired and what are the findings as they believe that people have the right to know on what is going on in their environment.
During the UPLB Museum of Natural History’s Biodiversity Seminar last June 24, PUSOD Inc.’s Executive Director Ann Hazel Javier pointed out that through collective action, people can help bring back, at the very least, what the environment needs. She also said that informing the public on these things could help them think and make them more aware and concerned of what is really happening right now with the environment.
“Educating people creates action from the people,” Javier said.
A challenge to everyone
Javier pointed out challenges in communicating information needed by the public. According to her, “most of the time, there is a disconnect between what people need to know and what information are available.”
“It is a challenge to the scientific community and development organizations to translate the scientific information into something appreciated by the general public,” Javier added.
She challenged everyone to go out and immerse themselves in communities and get a first-hand experience on how is it to be with nature.
“When you are with nature, you will be able to appreciate its beauty and the advantages of having a clean and healthy environment,” Javier explained.
She also said that people will also see the damages that society has caused the environment and will make people think of ways how to compensate for the damage they have done.
There are many ways to help conserve and preserve our environment but people being more aware and responsible is definitely a big first step.
For the UPLB Museum of Natural History, “Bringing nature closer to the people and the people closer to nature” is the battle cry.” “We believe that at the heart of understanding and appreciating biodiversity is an informed public,” Dr. Juan Carlos T. Gonzalez, Director said in a chance interview.
Indeed, education is at the core of preserving and conserving the Philippine’s rich natural resources and heritage. As what Baba Dioum, a Senegalese conservationist who aroused conservation among biodiversity hotspots has said: "In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."