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Why Biodiversity Matters

Danjugan island marine biodiversity2

Danjugan Island Marine Biodiversity – a genuine ecotourism experience in Negros Occidental, Philippines

A guest post from Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Cielito M. Habito. 

Consider the following: Southeast Asia occupies a mere 3 percent of the earth’s total surface, yet is home to 20 percent of all known species of plants and animals on the planet. The region possesses 284,000 square kilometers, or one-third, of all of the earth’s coral reefs, and as divers will attest, what we have are among the most diverse, and the most beautiful, in the world. The mountains, jungles, lakes, rivers and seas of our region make up one of the biggest pools of biological diversity in the world.

Isla Bulungan_Al

Isla Bulungan, Coron, Palawan, Philippines, one of the attractions being conserved and protected by The Coron Initiative.

Three Southeast Asian countries—Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines—are among the world’s 17 megadiverse countries, a term applied to those that harbor the majority of the earth’s species, and large numbers of endemic (native) species. But there are also “biodiversity hot spots”—geographic areas with significant levels of biodiversity under threat from humans. Such “hot spots” are distinguished by having at least 1,500 endemic plant species, and have lost at least 70 percent of primary vegetation. And it is alarming that among the three Southeast Asian megadiverse countries, only the Philippines is in the biodiversity hot spot list. We are, unlike our neighbors, causing the destruction and disappearance of plant and animal life at a rate so fast as to imperil our environment’s ability to sustain human life.

Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica

Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica Canopy, Madre de Dios, Peru. Learn about the Amazon biodiversity and its inter-relationships at various levels of the rainforest ecosystems. Travel green to Peru!

Human life is only one form of an estimated nine million life forms that inhabit our planet. Most of us understand that the myriad life forms all around us interconnect in simple and complex ways to one another, in an intricate “web of life.” The interconnections can be visible and obvious, as with predators and prey in the food chain. They can also be subtle, indirect or invisible, as when chemical reactions in certain organisms affect other organisms positively or negatively. For example, the class of plants called legumes develops nodules in their roots that host bacteria capable of converting nitrogen from the air into ammonia. As such, otherwise unusable nitrogen in the air is turned into useful compounds like amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, which are in turn vital to animal and human life.

Don Salvador Benedicto Waterfalls

Don Salvador Benedicto, Negros Occidental, Philippines has a rich rainforest soon to be claimed by urban development.

In this intricate web of life, a change in one link of the food chain can lead to far-reaching disruptions elsewhere in the ecosystem. A 2011 study conducted by 24 scientists from six countries documented how the decline of large predators at the top of the food chain has disrupted ecosystems all over the planet. As observed by the study, large animals were once ubiquitous across the globe, and shaped the structure and dynamics of ecosystems. Their decline, largely caused by humans through hunting and habitat fragmentation, has had far-reaching and often surprising consequences, including changes in vegetation, wildfire frequency, infectious diseases, invasive species, water quality, and nutrient cycles.

Bulabog Beach Boracay

Bulabog Beach, Boracay Island in the early 80s. The island has but a few remaining forest and The Boracay Initiative is aimed to save Boracay Island and its remaining biodiversity.  Photo via Rene Thalmann.

A well-studied example of how human intervention can severely disrupt the natural equilibrium was the deliberate elimination of wolves in Yellowstone National Park in the United States between 1872 and 1926. When the wolves were gone, the elk population rose, and led to overgrazing of deciduous woody species such as aspen and cottonwood. Over the years, conditions in the park drastically deteriorated, leading park authorities to trap and move the elk, and eventually, kill them. Elimination of wolves also led to a dramatic increase in the population of coyotes, which in turn adversely impacted the population of the pronghorn antelope. Studies on the park’s ecosystem spanning decades led to the decision to reintroduce wolves into Yellowstone in 1995. This has since led to a decline in the elk and coyote populations, which in turn had further effects on the population of foxes, and on various forms of plant and insect life in the park. The new and often unexpected impacts of the reintroduction of wolves continue to unfold to this day.

There are many other similar documented examples elsewhere in the world of ecological disruption arising from human intervention into the biological system on land and in the seas. The lesson is clear: Compromising biological diversity and the complex interrelations therein will have unforeseen and far-reaching undesirable impacts that are bound to hit back on us humans in ways hard to anticipate. The World Wide Fund for Nature asserts: “Biodiversity underpins the health of the planet and has a direct impact on all our lives. Put simply, reduced biodiversity means millions of people face a future where food supplies are more vulnerable to pests and disease, and where fresh water is in irregular or short supply.”

twin lagoons2

Twin Lagoons, Coron, Palawan, one of the target conservation sites of The Coron Initiative. Palawan is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.  Photo by Al Linsangan III.

The Philippines has the distinction of hosting the Asean region’s knowledge and advocacy center for biodiversity conservation, at the University of the Philippines Los Baños campus in Laguna. Established in 2005 with initial funding support from the European Commission, the Asean Center for Biodiversity is now supported by the 10 member-states. In the second Asean Conference on Biodiversity that it organized in Bangkok last week, hundreds of scholars, government officials, stakeholders and advocates explored the links between biodiversity and human health, business and biodiversity, and how biodiversity permeates the global Agenda for Sustainable Development and its accompanying Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

“A treasure trove of plant and animal life”—that’s how our part of the world is often described. Protecting that treasure is critical not just for the sake of the treasure per se, but also for the sake of our very welfare as human beings, now and far into the future.

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Our Society for Sustainable Tourism & Development Inc.-SSTDI offers Capacity Building and Educational programs for hotelsdestinations – LGUs, host communities,  private stakeholders and the grassroots and tour operators with Global Sustainable Tourism Council standards. Training programs for Destinations, Hotels, Tour Operators and Industry in general include Environmental ConservationGood Governance, Climate Resilience. The objective is to address global challenges of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals: poverty alleviation, environmental sustainability and climate change. WASTE TO ENERGY solutions are now offered to LGUs for their ecological solidwaste management and renewable energy solutions. For more information and assistance, contact us.

Photo Credits: Al Linsangan, Rene Thalmann, Inkaterra, Danjugan Island

Bird Watching, prime ecotourism activity in Coron

Bird Watching Training for Community Guides, a post TCI- CB Series activity co-organized by Society of Sustainable Tourism & Development Inc. – SSTDI.

At the final and culminating Coron Initiative Capacity Building Series (TCI- CB Series IV) last March 2014, a presentation on Coron Bird Watching for Conservation and Ecotourism was conducted by Mr. Chin Fernandez, president of the The Wild Bird Society of Coron (or Birdwatch Coron). Mr. Fernandez is also the president of Calamianes Association of Tourism Establishments (CATE) and COO of Darayonan Lodge. Highlights of the presentation are as follows:

  • Birding must be promoted as an ecotourism activity in Coron. There is a growing trend among bird tour operators to practice sustainable and socially responsible ecotourism, while relying on local goods and services or supporting local conservation projects. Due to their accessibility and ubiquity, birds are a useful tool for environmental education and awareness on environmental issues. Birds easily transmit values on respect to nature and the fragility of ecosystems.
  • Bird watching is a hobby for enthusiasts, but it can be packaged targeting nature travelers in general who are into it as an alternative activity, since not all tourists may be fond of snorkeling/diving; or they may be both.
  • Bird watching can be an added value to spend one more day in Coron or some tourists may have an extra day, either for rest or for on any other possible activity for them. Bird watching may be introduced as it is a little challenging to see and detect birds in their natural habitat. However, once seen, tourists may be enthralled to witness the other wonders of nature.
Birding Coron2

Blue-Tailed Bee-Eater, Tulbuan Coron, Palawan. Photo by AL3Photography/CoronGaleri.

  • A local group in Coron, called the The Wild Bird Society of Coron (or Birdwatch Coron for short),seeks to identify current and potential hobbyists in promoting the activity.
  • Adequate information campaign must however be conducted in collaboration with other bird watching and conservation groups as to the proper way of conducting the activity.
  • There is a move to declare by legislation, the Blue-headed Racquet-tail (an endemic parrot species), also locally known as “Kilit” to be a flagship species for Coron.
Birding Coron

Lesser Coucal at Sitio Banga, Coron Palawan. Photo by Al3Photography.

After Mr. Fernandez’s presentation, Mr. Alex Marcaida, from Palawan Sustainable Development Council (PSDC) the Workshop Facilitator had additional comments that bird watching is indeed an alternative activity to decrease pressure of tourist influx in water activities, or on a bigger scale, a tour package can be developed using the ridges to reef approach, wherein appreciation of nature may be on land and on water. He also lauded the movement of the Coron Birdwatching Society for the adoption and declaration of “Kilit” by the Sangguniang Bayan (Municipal Council) of Coron as its flagship species along with the underlying protection of the species and its habitat. Such movement may be adopted by other Palawan municipalities and incorporated into the Palawan Provincial Tourism Development Plan targeted for enactment on 2016. It is also beneficial that bird enthusiasts upload their photographs of birds online as a feedback system for identification and added information on its behavior, habitat, ecological/economic value and conservation measures.

Photo Expedition

Coron Photo Expedition, Birding & Nature Adventure by Coron Galeri. Photo by Al3Photography.

For more information and travel assistance about our Birdwatching in Coron, visit our Green Travel Exchange and for your Green Hotels stay , send us a message.  Join our Society of Sustainable Tourism & Development Inc. SSTDI- advocating green, eco-friendly and responsible travel. Promote your eco destination,  hotel, resort, lodging, restaurant, festival, event venue or hospitality services, spa or sports, transport, real estate development or any tourism-related enterprise espousing green or sustainable practices.

Our Society for Sustainable Tourism & Development Inc. -SSTDI offers Capacity Building and Training programs  to public and private stakeholders, host communities and grassroots in sustainable tourism development & stewardship to include Good Governance, Climate Change Mitigation Disaster Preparedness and ManagementWaste to Energy projects are offered to LGUs for their ecological solidwaste management and renewable energy solutions. For more information and assistance, contact us. 

Coron, a GREEN sanctuary

 

TCI CB Series IV FB Cover teaser

The following is a re-post from an article by Ms. Chit Juan, Social Enterpreneur & Sustainability advocate Managing Partner of Echo Store (see our related blog on green products & gift ideas), one of SSTDI-The Coron Initiative Resource Experts.  

CORON A green sanctuary

MANILA, Philippines – I remember Boracay in the early 1990s when it was lights out at 9 p.m., and you needed flashlights if you wanted to stroll along the shore after sunset, and resorts had ceiling fans and no air conditioning. Coron reminds me of such a time. And how I wish it would remain this way for a long time.

For daytrippers, you can dock your banca at Smith Beach where the boatmen from Al Linsangan’s cooperative will cook up a quick healthy lunch of grilled squid and local fish, and some pork too if you wish. The boatmen come to the beach complete with reusable plates and utensils so as not to litter the beach with disposable plastic utensils. And they encourage you to take as many pictures as you wish while they fix lunch.

After lunch, you board the boat to view Kayangan Lake, a steep 70-step climb in the forest where you are gifted with beautiful postcard views of the lakes of Coron. The island has many nooks and crannies, and snorkel spots like Twin Peaks, Siete Pecados, which responsible eco guides can lead you to. Beware that there are many tricycle drivers and boatmen posing as guides. There are about 40 licensed guides in Coron, and it would be more responsible to pay the proper fees for a proper guide. I wish that the local government is able to control the number of huts situated in the lake. The lake is actually best left to be managed by its original inhabitants, the Tagbanua, because they know how to preserve their environs.

You could also go by paddle boat (I do not know how long it would take to paddle from Coron town to the island though) so as not to disturb the animals that have the island as their natural habitat. Visitors should also not use insect repellents, lotions and other chemical products that could leech into the pristine waters, which are so clear you would surely be tempted to jump in.

To keep Coron as virgin as possible, a group of eco advocates have joined together to form the movement called The Coron Initiative. The movement seeks to teach tour guides to be eco guides, to teach resort owners how to buy green and serve green products, to teach boatmen how to preserve nature and to rally everyone to help save Coron from becoming another commercial destination.

A day trip may not be enough to see Coron island as it has many beaches and snorkel sites. A few more days are needed, too, to explore the rest of the Calamianes Islands – Culion, Linapacan, Coron and Busuanga – and that is just for a quickie view. Even Coron natives still have not explored all their neighboring isles.

What is important is to be a responsible tourist if we are to keep Coron and the rest of the islands pure and green. When we go on these trips, we should not expect city life and comfort. Rather, we should live as the natives do. We should all help in maintaining the peace and quiet of these islands. And of course, help in keeping it green and unadulterated.

There are eco advocates who have joined the movement and you may be better off seeing them on your visit to make sure you are with the green people:

Al Linsangan III is the community leader and head of Calamianes Culture Conservation Network Inc. He also operates responsible and eco-friendly green tours.

Hilbert Enriquez is a locavore and restaurant owner who infuses local flavor in his cuisine at Santino’s Grill.

Ivan Fernandez operates eco-friendly Coron Village Lodge and has adopted green ways like  using used cooking oil for their candles, retrofitting their lodges with eco-friendly materials, etc.

Rene Villegas shares his knowledge about Biology with the eco tour guides, promotes closed season fishing which is three days before and after the New Moon so we can save our favorite fish made into the famous lamayo danggit.

Eric Raymundo has volunteered his personal time to teach resort owners how to be energy efficient at the lowest price possible.

Caloy Libosada teaches tour guides how to be eco-friendly and how to appreciate birds and birdwatching as a tour possibility.

Chin Fernandez, another birdwatcher and Darayonan Lodge operator, promotes birdwatching tours.

PJ Aranador shares with resort developers how to be more efficient in using native materials while keeping the Tagbanua culture in their designs, rather than taking inspiration from Bali or other cultures.

Susan Santos de Cardenas is the moving force behind Sustainable Tourism initiative and has helped CCCNI find partners in the international community despite her being Japan-based.

And the chieftain himself of the Tagbanuas, Rodolfo, who joined our conference (The Green Leaders Forum last July 1 and 2, see related story) to get everyone on the same page while guiding The Coron Initiative members in respecting the ways and customs of the indigenous tribe.

There are many more advocates who can help preserve Coron and its sister islands and many more who can join the movement even while being a tourist or an investor. There are 688 more islands available for sale or investment and we wish developers would toe the line in keeping virgin islands like Coron the way they were when we found them. Let’s make it not just more fun in the Philippines, but greener too.

Take a green trip to Coron, Palawan, Philippines, site of The Coron Initiative– a UNEP APFED showcase program on Sustainable Tourism  Development & Stewardship, the Philippines’ first sustainable tourism program.  For more information and travel assistance please visit our Green Travel Exchange or contact us.   

Our Society for Sustainable Tourism & Development Inc.-SSTDI offers Capacity Building and Educational programs for hotels, destinations – LGUs, host communities,  private stakeholders and the grassroots and tour operators with Global Sustainable Tourism Council criteria. Training programs for Destinations, Hotels, Tour Operators and Industry in general include Environmental ConservationGood Governance, Climate Resilience. The objective is to address global challenges of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals: poverty alleviation, environmental sustainability and climate change. WASTE TO ENERGY solutions are now offered to LGUs for their ecological solidwaste management and renewable energy solutions. For more information and assistance, contact us.

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