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Spectacular biodiversity in our backyard


If only there was no space limitation, I could have brought in from Goa more books on biodiversity and sustainable development. The pamphlet “Diversity” by author Dr. Madhav Gadjil,  for example, tugs at an already pained Filipino’s heart. A map titled “Biological Treasure Troves” shows the 18 hot spots in the world with a large number of species “exclusive to the region and in great danger of extinction from the impact of human activities.” India has two hotspots, the Western Ghats and the Himalayas. Of the biodiversity hotspots, however, it is only the Philippines where the entire archipelago is considered a hot spot area.

I marvel at the Indian government’s  collaboration with scientists and nongovernment organizations in popularizing and producing pamphlets, books and other  informative materials on natural science. They are essential in making people understand and appreciate their indispensable role in the conservation of vanishing natural resources.

The website of India’s Department of Science and Technology, more specifically the National Council for Science and Technology Communication (NCSTC), www.dst.gov.in/scientific-programme/s-t_ncstc.htm,  mentions the Parishad as an apex organization of the Government of India that aims to “communicate science and technology.” Its activities include research, “development of scripts, films, video and radio programmes, books, slide sets, etc., on selected areas of science and technology; Training (short term) for school teachers and activists of science and technology based voluntary organisations in science communication; Development of science journalists through University Courses in Science and Technology Communication; Awards and recognition for outstanding science communicators;

Coordination with state councils and networks of S and T based organisations; Developing capacity through science communication; Field programmes for demonstrating innovative ideas of science popularisation, outreach and extension activities including National Children’s Science Congress, Science Day celebrations, promotion of voluntary blood donation programmes, environmental awareness and positive action, etc., and Promoting International Cooperation for mutual benefit.”

As a citizen in one of the most biologically rich countries of the world, which is pathetically in a severe state of biodiversity crisis, it is natural to wish that we have a similarly visible government taking a more proactive, sincere and steering role in resources conservation.

Can our  Department of Science and Technology and Public Information Agency work together with the Dep artment of Education, Commission on Higher Education,  Department of Interior and Local Government and the local government units, and civil society  in popularizing biodiversity and provide funding to wildlife advocates for the  printing of their abundant but unpublished materials?

Beyond any doubt, our country has the highest rate of species of flora and fauna found only here, but we are sadly losing them at a very high rate. Cebu is a special place in the hearts of the ecology advocates, especially. Despite the challenges of unplanned development and habitat loss, it claims the unique distinction  of hosting  a record number of endemic species of birds – Black Shama, Flowerpecker and most recently, the Cebu Hawk Owl.

“The Philippines has among the highest rates of discovery in the world with sixteen new species of mammals discovered in the last ten years. Because of this, the rate of endemism for the Philippines has risen and likely will continue to rise.” http://www.conservation.org/where/priority_areas/hotspots/asia-pacific/Philippines/Pages/biodiversity.aspx

Not many Filipinos have the slightest idea that we are closely intertwined with other life forms and that, minute by minute, we are losing precious and unique global heritage – our biodiversity, without which we cannot hope to exist. Climate change has and will definitely exacerbate its loss and destruction.

The Philippines “is believed to harbor more diversity of life than any other country on earth on a per hectare basis.” “The continuing habitat degradation and forestland conversion are major threats to Philippine biodiversity.”  Ironically, the foregoing two declarations are attributed to the agency which has not been held accountable for its grandiose failure in performing the mandate of protecting our environment – the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Sadly, DENR continues to issue permits for environmentally critical projects or projects in an environmentally critical areas, such as protected areas and seascapes, without looking at the real value of the ecosystems which are impacted or the places declared as needing the highest prioritization for conservation. Yes, scientists have crafted the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Priorities to stem the tide of biological destruction.

Yet,  government has largely abdicated its role in providing leadership in protecting and  conserving biodiversity by continuing to pretend as if our mangroves, forests, wetlands and seas are not in a critical state of degradation or as if the Philippines is not a disaster epicenter, for that matter.

Hats off to the dedicated conservation scientists and civil servants working painstakingly on the ground, despite limited resources and lack of government support, and continuing the most challenging task of protecting and documenting our threatened flora and fauna.

Congratulations to Lisa Marie Paguntalan, director for field operations of the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc., Perry Ong  and the other wildlife scientists “honored for their role in the discovery over the past 25 years of close to 300 species of plants and animals found only in the Philippines.” (Inquirer/Dec. 14)

May your dedication and persistence inspire more stewards to protect and defend Mother Nature here and in other parts of the world.

Let us do our share.

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