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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 hotels, destinations – 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 Conservation, Good 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
“We saved an island…now we invite you to EXPLORE it.”
It was in 1974 when Gerry Ledesma, first visited Danjugan Island with some of his diving mates. Its thick limestone forests hosted many different kinds of birds and bats; its underwater was so clear with schools of fish and magnificent, intact coral reefs. Scuba diving became popular and most divers then were spear fishers—and at the end of each dive day, tall stories were told about the sharks seen —there were tigers in the outer reefs surrounding the island and white/black tipped in the nearby reefs– and the big fish that got away.
The early 1980s saw the decline of scuba diving due to the economic crisis brought upon by the government’s mismanagement of the sugar industry that most of the divers in Negros depended on. 1984 was a bad year too for Danjugan Island as Maricalum Mining Corp (MMC) stopped operations and its displaced workers started destructive fishing with blasting caps and cyanide from MMC. The year also brought Typhoon Nitang that destroyed the shallow reefs of the island as well as in the entire foreshore of municipalities of Cauayan, Sipalay, and Hinobaan. The years of early to mid 90s emphasized the need for Danjugan’s conservation with episodes of logging and poaching and this finally provoked the offer to buy the island but Gerry didn’t have money. William Oliver, a British zoologist working on Negros endangered wildlife species, suggested contacting John Burton of the World Land Trust (WLT) whose thrust is the purchase of important biodiversity sites for conservation. Soon, a noted marine scientist from the UK, Sue Wells, came to visit and not long after, Peter Raines of Coral Cay Conservation (CCC). Then, an invitation to England for the launch of the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Project (PRRP) and within a month, a fund was transferred to PRRP for the down payment of Danjugan Island.
The Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation, Inc. (PRRCFI) was established to manage and operate the PRRP, as well as the conservation program based on Danjugan Island that was expanded to include Southern Negros Occidental. Due to the ignorance of marine and wildlife conservation, the group piloted the 1st Youth Marine Camp in 1991 with their children and children of friends and relatives. The camp had pleasing results and children from the village of Bulata were included in the subsequent camps. Presently, the camps are conducted each summer as the Youth Marine and Wildlife Camp and with the Philippine Department of Education as the Danjugan Environment Education Project (DEEP).
Location & Biodiversity
Resting 3 kilometers southwest off the coast of Negros Occidental, Danjugan is a lush, 43-hectare island rich in marine and terrestrial biodiversity. This island, about 1.5 kilometers long and 0.5 kilometers at its widest point, has 5 lagoons and is covered with limestone forests providing asylum to many wildlife species that struggle to exist in the mainland.
Together with Sipalay City and the Municipality of Hinobaan, it forms the southern border of the province and is situated in the Sulu Sea, an important eco-region for marine biodiversity. The island’s surrounding reef is under the Danjugan Island Marine Reserve and Sanctuaries with three Special Management Areas or No Take Zones established in 2000 through Cauayan Municipal Ordinance 99-52.
It holds an incredible biodiversity given its small size. At least 72 bird species have been recorded on the island, including a nesting pair of White- breasted Sea Eagles Heliatus leucogaster that have been breeding atop Typhoon Beach Camp since 1974 and Tabon scrub fowls Megapodius cumingi which are common around the island.
Danjugan Island Environmental Education Program
Increasing environmental awareness in the youth has been one of the major priorities of PRRCFI. The Danjugan Island Environmental Education Program (DEEP), funded by the Foundation of the Philippine Environment (FPE), endeavors to teach Biodiversity Conservation, Sustainable Development, Climate Change Issues and Values to teachers and elementary/highschool students of Cauayan, Sipalay and Hinobaan municipalities in Southern Negros. These are where the last remaining good coral reefs in Negros Occidental remain. DEEP attempts to inspire to teach students to be stewards of the environment.
The DEEP was implemented starting June 2011. In the two years that it was executed, it aimed to address the shortcomings of environment education by delivering modules on biodiversity, marine and terrestrial wildlife awareness, climate change adaptation and mitigation, sustainability, and principles of responsible ecological stewardship to select public school teachers, students, barangay councils, and LGUs.
Genuine green ecotourism
“We saved an island…now we invite you to EXPLORE it.”
Danjugan Island is now open on a limited capacity basis for visitors, to experience ecotourism at its purest: learn about the biodiversity within the area, its conservation efforts, eco-friendly facilities to include eco cabanas, solar powered electricity, communal served meals based on native cuisine and seasonally-available local produce and services offered by the locals within.
Make a difference and travel green to Danjugan!
The Danjugan Island is part of our Society for Sustainable Tourism & Development Inc.-SSTDI – Negros Occidental initiative, the sustainable tourism development & stewardship program for the province.
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 Conservation, Good 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.
We know the problems, we know the solutions. Sustainable development. The issue is the political will. ~ Ex PM Tony Blair
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT. I first went to Boracay Island, Philippines (voted as one of the best beaches in the world) in the late 80’s and we had a most fantastic experience in paradise. We travelled in the typhoon season; there were no air-conditioned buses for the long, dusty and grueling overland ride with the locals and chickens alike; no jetty port – we had to wade in shallow waters to board a motorized small banca,across the strait in rough waters. Boracay was not affected by typhoons then, however during this this season called the Habagat, southwest monsoon winds, we had to land on the other side of the island (Bulabog) and hike all the way to our resort located on White Beach, our luggage, transported by a water buffalo-pulled cart. There was no electricity, no air-conditioning and no hot water showers in those days, but our stay was pure and simple pleasure. We had the time of our life!
WORK AT WHITE BEACH. Little did I imagine that just after two years, I would return to the island and work for one of the pioneer resorts, and stayed further on for 10 years to manage two small properties, tour operations and transport company. Within this period, I also handled three small airline companies that serviced Caticlan, two were defunct and the ultimate one was Seair, which I had to persuade convincingly to fly there. The rest is history.
PARADISE LOST- WELL, ALMOST. I left Boracay in 2001 after 10 years of working there as I felt that it was excessively crowded, over-developed in a destructive sense and regrettably deteriorating due to lack of Eco-balance. I ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Returning exactly 21 years since I first came, with over 500 hundred resorts of all shapes, sizes and prices, there is hardly a trace of the pristine, peaceful and perfect paradise that I first saw. It is just chaotic congestion of lodgings, restaurants, bars, stores crowding with vans and tricycles, with no regard for proper zoning, maximum carrying capacity policies, no conservation value for natural environment, nor ecological protection not to mention, it ranks high in climate change risk, most especially on White Beach’s spectacular shoreline.
FULL CIRCLE. It is perhaps the hands of fate that made me return to Boracay in 2010, as a Guest Speaker at Events Asia 2010 and as luck would have it, talk about Sustainable Events Management. With my experience at Inkaterra, Peru’s Eco pioneer and Conservation leader, I shared my knowledge and experience in sustainable tourism and environmental conservation. In 1975, Inkaterra opened a lodge for scientists to study Peru’s rainforest long before eco tourism was trendy. With over 35 years of experience in sustainable tourism initiatives, it is the first to be carbon neutral in the country, doing reforestation projects in a total of 17,000 hectares in the Amazon and the Andes.
PLEDGE. After having seen the current deteriorated environmental status of the island, a framework for a new Boracay Conservation, Social Responsibility and Sustainable Development, was conceived for stakeholders and local host community.
THE BORACAY INITIATIVE®- A CALL FOR UNITY AND SUPPORT. The challenge is to espouse and implement The Boracay Initiative© (TBI) – an Environmental Conservation, Social Responsibility & Sustainable Tourism framework adapted from the UNWTO & Rainforest Alliance. TBI was presented to the island’s multi-stakeholders at the First Environmental Forum in 2010, organized with the cooperation of the Department of Environment & Natural Resources & Environmental Management Bureau -Region VI, Office of the Mayor of Malay, Aklan, Boracay Foundation & Petron Foundation. However, to date, both public and private stakeholders have not taken it up at all.
LESS CONVERSATION, IT’S TIME FOR ACTION. Fate brought me back to the island, which we have come to love and cherish, but it is high time for us to take action, less conversation! We must put all our efforts and resources to restore and conserve Boracay Island, its natural beauty and valuable coastal marine environement to provide sustainability, continued economic vitality and resilience for its stakeholders, the Philippines’ tourism industry and the future generations.
TBI was presented once again, to concerned citizens in the island, with the gracious hosting by Mandala Spa & Villas, multi-awarded Spa and ASEAN2012 Green Hotel winner. This time with the Society For Sustainable Tourism & Development, Inc. -SSTDI at the helm, TBI’s Sustainable Tourism, Conservation and Social Responsibility framework is designed to be implemented with the cooperation of both private and public sector of Boracay Island, with expert institutional partners Zero Carbon Resorts, Green Hotels & The Clean Blue.
So, Boracay Island and the Philippines, when will you begin to espouse Sustainable Tourism? Conserve & protect the island/ 7,107 islands for the future generations?