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Archive for the ‘Forests’ Category

The 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition, spearheaded by the California Academy of Sciences, is in full swing.

“The 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition is the largest expedition undertaken by the Academy. It will be the first expedition to make a comprehensive survey of both terrestrial and marine diversity. Between April 26 and June 10, 2011, Academy botanists, entomologists and marine biologists, will explore shallow-water reefs, the deep sea, and terrestrial and freshwater areas for new life and document the biodiversity of this island nation. Educational outreach will be conducted on location and back at the Academy.” (http://www.calacademy.org/science/hearst/)

Joining the Academy’s expedition team are researchers from the University of the Philippines, De La Salle University, Philippine National Museum and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. The expedition is also being organized with groups like Conservation International-Philippines, Pusod, and Philippine Science Centrum.  Research areas include the Verde Island Passage, Mt. Makiling, Mt. Isarog and Taal Lake.

Right now, the expedition’s shallow water team members are based in Mabini, Batangas and are finding all sorts of amazing underwater creatures, a number of which are new species! For regular updates, visit the expedition blog at http://www.calacademy.org/blogs/expedition/

In the meantime check out this video of spawning corals that the team was able to document!

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“Over the past two decades, the Abuan River has been a highway for contraband wood logged in the precious forests of the Sierra Madre . Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bugadors skilled in the ways of a treacherous river have made their living here, braving the rocky currents to supply narra, lauan and other precious wood species to Isabela’s famed furniture industry. But the trade has long been illegal and is wreaking havoc on what is one of the planet’s most valuable forest ecosystems. It became an established trade and livelihood because no one before Padaca has seriously tried to stop it. As her task force rounds up the wood, she is under pressure from other politicians in the province to just let it go for another year.”

Howie Severino blogs about his team’s foray into the Sierra Madre, observing Isabela governor and 2008 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Grace Padaca as she went after illegal logging activities happening in the  Abuan River.  The result is a documentary airing on I-Witness Monday midnight (Philippine time, a day or two later on Pinoy Tv overseas): Si Gob at ang mga Bugador.

Read his full post here.

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a natural storyteller

My sister flew home from Taiwan for a visit a few weeks ago, and she alerted me that Cebu Pacific’s in-flight magazine contained an article on Dr. Laurence Heaney. Fortunately, the article is available online and I didn’t have to book a flight to be able to read the feature on one of my favorite scientists. You can read the article here, or you can also check out my own profile on Larry Heaney, which I did when I was still with Haribon. I’m posting it here in a sudden fit of nostalgia and affection for Dr. Heaney and his work. You’ll see why.

“Meeting Larry”
Originally published in Haring Ibon magazine, 3rd Quarter 2003

It was a familiar but still captivating story. I watched across the dinner table as biologist Laurence Heaney related the details to one of Haribon’s board members:  how a rat specimen sat unidentified for 20 years at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History until somebody realized it was an unknown species; how a team of scientists came to Mt. Isarog and “re-discovered” it; how they despaired at trying to feed it everything in the forest until they discovered that it eats practically nothing but earthworms.  It happened in 1988, and he must have told the story and written about it dozens of times, but to hear him tell it he might as well have just come home from the mountains still flushed with the joy of discovering a new species.

“I went to the Philippines for the same reason that Charles Darwin went to the Galapagos Islands. I wanted to know where the species live, how do they live, who their relatives are… to study biodiversity – where they come from.”

The Galapagos Islands, of course, are known for harboring amazing biodiversity, and Charles Darwin was its most famous visitor.  But in the Philippines, Larry Heaney has found his own Galapagos.

“The Galapagos Islands are dull and uninteresting compared to the Philippines,” says Heaney.  “The Philippines has fantastic diversity, both in plants and animals.  The level of endemism is certainly the highest in the world.” (more…)

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I came across two articles from the GMA news feed several weeks ago, both about the establishment of proposed renewable energy power plants and the opposition they presently face from local constituents. While the articles are not as recent, the issues they present are ever as fresh. I quote them both at some length here:

Class suit vs. geothermal project in Kanlaon filed

MANILA, Philippines — At least 200 people, including children, will lodge before the Bacolod Regional Trial Court Wednesday a petition to stop the Energy Development Corp. (EDC) from entering the Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park (MKNP) buffer zone for geothermal development.

…the petitioners’ lawyer Andrea Si said they would seek a temporary retraining order and a permanent injunction on the EDC move. Si said the petitioners remain opposed to the tapping of geothermal power from the buffer zone and to the purchase of power for Negros Occidental from a coal-fired plant in Cebu.

They said government and the business sector should push for alternative renewable power, such as hydro, solar and wind, and should not compromise what little is left of the province’s forest.

…Si said the class suit will ask the court to stop EDC from entering the buffer zone because of questions on the constitutionality of Republic Act 9154, which established MKNP as a protected area and a peripheral area as a buffer zone. The suit will also question the Energy Development Corporations’ (EDC) Environment Compliance Certificate and the firm’s plan to drill for geothermal energy from the buffer zone to the MKNP protected area.

…Tapping 40 megawatts of geothermal power from the buffer zone is not worth destroying irreplaceable rich biodiversity in the area, she added.

Energy officials earlier warned that Negros Occidental no longer has reserve power and its power shortage will worsen by 2010 if it does not have new sources of energy in place by then.

Cooperative eyes P2.8 hydro plant

KORONADAL CITY, Philippines — An electric cooperative here plans to build a 20-megawatt hydropower plant in Lake Sebu, the tourism capital of South Cotabato province, as it anticipates a supply shortage in the area two to three years from now.

Santiago C. Tudio, general manager of the South Cotabato Electric Cooperative said, “…the generated power from the waters of the Seven Falls of Lake Sebu will be used to supply the power requirement of South Cotabato in anticipation of the power shortage…” Mr. Tudio said a hydropower plant is safer than a coal-fired power plant.

But Sangguniang Panlalawigan member Jose M. Madanguit, chairman of the environment committee, said residents of Lake Sebu would oppose the project due to concerns about biodiversity. This could affect the area’s eco-tourism potentials and might displace the T’boli tribe.

But Mr. Tudio said a hydropower plant is the best option given the rising cost of diesel fuel. A hydropower plant is also more environment-friendly than one fired by coal, he pointed out.

Lake Sebu’s mountains are rich in coal pursued by several mining firms. But the local electric cooperative here, Mr. Tudio said, prefers a hydropower plant given the town’s abundant water resources. Lake Sebu is home to waterfalls and several lakes.

Mindanao has a generating capacity of 1,850 megawatts, but the dependable capacity is only 1,520 megawatts. Peak demand is projected to hit 1,440 megawatts this year. Industry regulations, however, require the Mindanao grid to maintain a reserve capacity of at least 23.4% of its generating capacity. Peak demand for power supply by 2015 is expected to hit 1,750 megawatts.

At the onset, I can recognize the potential benefits that the introduction of power sources—let alone renewable energy sources—will bring to these areas. Not only does it provide electricity for communities that did not used to have it, it can also augment the much needed energy demands of the province or the region. Communities that used to rely on diesel generators running for just several hours in a given day can now enjoy continuous power supply. Power generation can stimulate trade; refrigeration, for example, is now made possible unlike before when it was too costly to run on generators, and consequently, perishable goods like fish and other meats can now be stored longer periods and stocked more for mass volume trading in the market. The scales of production increase as a consequence, which in turn enhances the livelihoods of people.

Apart from the tangible benefits of electricity to local communities, the generated power to begin with is cleaner; it comes from cleaner energy sources such as geothermal plumes or hydropower, as opposed to coal-fired plants which emit harmful CO2 into the atmosphere. The national government presently promotes the shift to cleaner, renewable energy sources in pursuit of its commitment to mitigate global climate change. By utilizing these cleaner energy sources, not only is the country’s carbon emissions reduced, but so is its dependence on imported oil for power generation minimized; thereby, lowering the risks of its constituents to inflation and food price hikes due to exorbitant oil price surges.

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Just saw this story in Inquirer.net, which immediately transported me into a state of nostalgia and melancholy:

Help save Sierra Madre, tribe leader urges media
By Delfin Mallari Jr.
Southern Luzon Bureau

LUCENA CITY, Philippines — Using a borrowed mobile phone, a tribal leader in Sierra Madre in northern Quezon asked for media’s help to stop the renewed illegal logging operation in the mountain ranges.

On Monday evening, Eric Avellaneda, vice chairman of mountain tribe association called “Adhikain ng mga Grupong Taong Katutubo na Nagtatanggol” (Agta), sent a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer and reported that more than 30 chainsaws were sneaked into the mountain and were now being used by unidentified groups in their renewed unlawful cutting of trees.

In a follow-up phone interview, Avellaneda said he just borrowed the mobile phone from a lowlander to contact the media to ask for help to stop the illegal activities.

“The media is our only hope to stop and prevent the further destruction of Sierra Madre. Illegal logging stops every time it was reported in the media,” he said in Filipino.

Full story here

I guess there’s a bright side to this. That a tribal leader is actively engaged in protecting his ancestral domain, that the ubiquitous mobile phone has given him access to media, that the reporter who got the message actually wrote about it, that the government initiated action on the complaint. It shows the power of the individual, the power of the media, the power of, well, texting.

Just what the extent of that power is, I don’t know.

Illegal logging has been systematically wiping out the Sierra Madre for years, even decades. It’s one of those situations where the problem seems so big that one is tempted to just despair and give up hope that it’s ever going to go away. The loggers are rich, powerful, and armed. The government officials are on the take. A lot of upland residents are too poor to have much livelihood options other than the destructive slash-and-burn farming. And the felled logs continue to float down the river, continue to breeze through the checkpoints.

Three years ago, the Sierra Madre was the scene of heartbreaking tragedy as the denuded mountain slopes broke loose after days of heavy rains, triggering landslides and flashfloods. The disaster killed more than a thousand people, destroyed property and infrastructure, and rendered farmlands useless.

I had the opportunity to listen to some of the victims during a forum we organized at the Haribon Foundation about half a year after the tragedy. I wrote about their story for the Haribon website, where I now go back to go over it once again.

The article was one of the most difficult I’ve ever had to write. I remember sitting in front of the computer listening to the tape from the forum, trying to hold back tears as I listened to the speakers.

“Hanggang ngayon maluwag sila sa pagbibigay ng permit para mailabas ang kahoy na dapat sana’y tulong na sa amin. Masakit para sa aming tanggapin na yung mga kahoy na yon ang pumatay sa mga mahal namin sa buhay samantalang kami walang maipag-pagawa ng bahay… Tone-toneladang kahoy ang lumalabas, sabi nila total log ban daw, sabi nila ibibigay daw sa aming nasalanta, pero marami sa amin ang walang bahay.”

“Sa totoo lang po gustong-gusto naming hukayin yung bangkay ng mga mahal namin sa buhay pero wala kaming magawa. Syempre po yung mga natitirang nabubuhay may mga pangangailangan naman na dapat tingnan,”

“Ang mga ganitong pagsasalita ay mahirap para sa amin…sa bawat pagkakataong nagsasalita kami ng ganito ay para naming hinahalukay ang aming mga namatay na anak. Pero kung hindi po ako magsasalita ngayon sa harapan ninyo, para ko ng kinalimutan yung pagkamatay ng pamilya ko, ng anak ko.”

Two of the speakers very understandably broke down and cried in the middle of their talk, and it was all I could do not to burst into tears as well. But they very bravely told their stories, because they knew that the world needs to know what happened, what is still happening, in Sierra Madre.

“Huwag nilang ibaon sa limot ang trahedyang ito …kung dadaain natin sa limot ang mga bagay na ito, ilan pang bayan at ilan pang Sierra Madre ang luluha?”

It’s a sad story, it’s one that’s been going on for years, so much so that even the media entities do not put it among the big headlines. Still, Agta leader Eric Avellaneda had enough faith and determination to send in that text message, to do every little bit within his capacity, in search of solutions. It’s a sad story, but I don’t want to think, not yet, that it’s not going to have a happy ending.

Photos by Don De Alban

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Punong Pinoy

A couple of posts back, a reader, Rey, shared the links to these videos their group made for the Clean and Green Foundation’s Trees for Life campaign, and they’re so interesting that we thought we might as well put them up as a full post here. Trees for Life advocates for the use of native tree species – punong Pinoy – in tree-planting efforts to ensure that you’re really restoring the forests and not just “greening” things per se. This topic has been discussed in a previous post, but the message of course needs to be preached as widely as possible.

I don’t know who Rey is, and I’m not sure if I’ve met the people behind the Trees for Life campaign, but through this post at least we’re spreading the same message. It’s making these connections, reaching other groups, spreading the message, it’s all of these things that make keeping this blog so much fun.

If you’re interested in knowing more or in helping the Trees for Life campaign, call Clean and Green Foundation at 63-2-5276376 or 78 or email cgfi@itextron.com, or share these videos to your friends.

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I have been away for almost a total of 8 months from home. And it seems that anywhere I go there are always comments about the weather – particularly how much it has changed. I have never experienced the hottest summer here in the Philippines. I heard and read that it reached 36° C to 38° C! But I have most definitely experienced heavy rains and low temperatures in Spain during spring. The intense heat and dry air in Italy and most especially the heat wave in Athens that reached 46° C in June! Ah yes, I believe the weather or better yet the climate is really changing.

The Inter-governmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) stated that global climate change is caused by global warming. Global warming is defined as the increase in average temperature of the Earth’s near-surface air and oceans in recent decades and its projected continuation. Warming is caused by the rapid rate of emissions of greenhouse gases or GHGs (e.g. carbon dioxide, methane and chlorofluorocarbons) from human activities such as burning of fossil fuels, tropical deforestation, etc. Factors with the greatest direct effects on estuarine and marine ecosystems are sea-level rise, wind patterns and hydrodynamic shifts, storminess, temperature change and availability of water from precipitation and run-off (IPCC TAR 2001).

The Philippines, being an archipelagic country has been deemed to be one of the countries most prone to the effects of climate change. Storm surges and riverine flooding is aggravated by the increasing frequency and intensities of tropical cyclones and other types of environmental degradation. Low lying areas are severely affected and high economic losses result from the damages caused by typhoons. Sea-level rise will then exacerbate the already flooded areas (IPCC TAR 2001).

Figure 1. Flooded low-lying areas in the Philippines will be further aggravated by rising sea-levels. (From Rommel Maneja)

(more…)

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