Biodiversity Hotspots: The Philippines

PART 1

Introduction

Each and every country has something unique that differentiates it from others. These are special areas that do require special protection because of the different roles they play. These biodiversity hotspots in certain countries act as tourist attraction sites. In so doing, these regions earn the country foreign exchange that is vital in the growth of different sectors of a country. In many countries, these areas are under serious destruction from human activities.

As a result, there is a need for protection of these biodiversity hotspots. This paper explores biodiversity hotspots, the case of Philippines. This entails defining the term biodiversity hotspot and offer solutions on the global efforts aimed at curbing biodiversity loss. The solutions are based on the latest developments in the protection of endangered areas.

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PART 2

Definition

A biodiversity hotspot refers to one of the 34 areas that have been designated world wide. These areas are rich biologically and are normally characterized by high levels of plant endemism. Here, cases of high loss of habitat are of serious concern. Consequently, such regions are the most endangered hence they require conservation actions to be directed towards them.

For any region in the world to be considered as a biodiversity hotspot, it has to contain at least 1,500 species of vascular plants which have to be endemics. Additionally, such a region should have endured a high level of habitat loss. Normally, a hotspot must have experienced 70% loss in the original habitat. In many cases, there is only 1.4% of land that remains whereas this is to support 60% of the world’s reptiles, plants, amphibians, birds and mammals (Conservation International, 2005).

According to the Australian Government’s Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (2009), these areas do support natural ecosystems which are mainly in their natural state with a well representation of native species, as well as communities. Biodiversity hotspots, thus, have a diverse range of endemic species which are local and are not easily found in those areas that are outside the specific hotspot.

In case there are no any conservation management strategies put in place to control continued destruction of the diversity, then any current, as well as planned human activities risk these areas. However, natural values of hotspots are mainly intact. This essentially means that all efforts directed at maintaining the values ought to provider value for money. This is in the contribution of efforts aimed at biodiversity conservation in the biodiversity hotspots.

The International Conservation has classified the Philippines as one of the biodiversity hotspots in the world. The country is made up of over 7,100 islands making it a biologically rich country. In Philippines, many of the endemic species are found in forest fragments that currently cover 7% of the original hotspot that existed hitherto.

The remaining species here are more than 6,000 plants plus various bird species like the Philippine cockatoo, wrinkled hornbill, the enormous Philippine eagle, the Cebu flowerpecker and the Visayan. Further more, there is a high amphibian endemism that boosts of species like the panther flying frog. Additionally, the country is said to be one of the areas that are endangered in the world.

This is essentially due to the fact that over time, there have been many cases of logging reported in the country. Currently, there is deforestation as people forests for agricultural purposes. Moreover, these forests are being cleared in order to pave the way for accommodation facilities to cater for the high population in the country (Conservation International, 2007).

According to the US Department of State (2011), Philippines measure an area of 300,000km2 (117,187sq. mi.). Its capital city is Manila with a population of 11.55 million people. The country has a mountainous terrain with 65% of the surface being mountainous. It also has narrow coastal lowlands. Additionally, the Philippines has a tropical climate characterized by astride typhoon belt. In the Philippines, more than 40% of total land area is under arable farming.

Despite the country being a rich agricultural land, a number of factors do limit the productivity gains in the country. These include poor infrastructural facilities, financial constraints and government policies. However, agricultural products are used for consumption, as well as export. Only a third of the population is employed in the agricultural sector. It is worthy noting that agricultural productivity does not even contribute a fifth of the country’s GDP.

The country has experienced deforestation in many parts. Over years, there has been continued uncontrolled logging, as well as farm clearing for agricultural purposes.

This has resulted into serious implications in terms of the ecological balance. Government efforts aimed at reducing deforestation have not been effective. Essentially, cases of deforestation are still a serious problem in Philippines. Global warming has been said to represent a major threat to the biodiversity in Philippines.

An increase in the concentrations of carbon dioxide affects both plants and animals. The carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere a result of numerous human activities. Studies undertaken show that many unique habitats are likely to be lost, as a result of changes brought about by climate. An increase in the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere results into the rise in temperatures.

Consequently, it is estimated that the rise in temperature is likely to eliminate over 56,000 plants and 3,700 endemic animal species in the biodiversity hotspots in the world, the Philippines included. Geographical limitations restrict migration options for many of the endangered species in the Philippines. As a result, many species in this region become vulnerable to effects of climate change (Alave, 2011).

PART 3

Philippines is one the major threatened hotspots in the world. The country has remarkable levels of species endemism. However, only seven percent of its original forest still exists as a result of massive destruction. In the lowland regions, only three percent of the forests do exist.

In case conservation measures would have been instituted, then many areas would have been able to experience regeneration in the long run. Thus, the major cause of extinction in the tree species in the Philippines is high deforestation rates (The Utrecht Faculty of Education, 2011).

A number of factors have contributed to the high rates of deforestation experienced in the Philippines currently. The principal issue here is the high population in the country. Currently, according to the BBC (2011), the Philippines has a population of 93.6 million people. This was from the 2010 UN estimate. The annual population growth rate as per 2007 was estimated to be at 2.04%. The livelihoods of all these people are dependent on natural resources in the country.

Rural areas are said to experience severe poverty. Further more, a high population density estimated at more than 273 people per km2 has been a burden on the only remaining forests in the country. People began using timber a long time ago, for instance the Spanish who used the timber in constructing their fleet. By the year 1945, forest cover was estimated at two-thirds of the country (Australian Government, 2009).

Contrary, proceeding years saw acceleration in the logging rates in the Philippines. The Conservation International (2007), states that about 2,000km2 of trees that constituted the country’s natural forest cover were logged on an annual basis. The rate at which the logging occurred was three times the rate at which tropical forests were being converted in the rest of the world.

However, there has been a reduction in logging in the country due to the current state of forests. Many of the forests have been depleted meaning people cannot undertake such activities again. More so, there has been increased community awareness. This is in an effort to teach communities involved in logging on the importance of forests.

This has been done by government agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations involved in environmental conservation efforts. Despite what has been witnessed and achieved so far, it has not been rosy. As it was witnessed in 2004 when landslides occurred in Philippines, there are still numerous logging activities which are going on in the country’s forests that still remain (Guerero, 2007).

Forests, which are part of Philippines’ biodiversity hotspots, have been on the decline due to land conversion and mining. As per the Conservation International (2007), by 1997, one-quarter of the Philippines was under mining activities.

To make the destruction case serious, these mining activities were taking place in more than half of the primary forests that were remaining in the country. Land conversion has seen construction of infrastructural facilities which are not in harmony with the country’s set goals on biodiversity conservation.

These infrastructural facilities include irrigation projects, ports and harbors, development of road networks, energy and power projects. During the construction of these facilities, there is massive clearing of vegetation cover in order to create space (U.S Department of State, 2011).

Campaigns for rectifying this trend have included the introduction of exotic species to what already existed. This has not been working especially in the wetlands, with lots of negative impacts experienced. Some of the species which include fish like the giant catfish and black bass, water fern, toads, water hyacinth and frogs. However, immediate action is needed in order to avoid a looming crisis in the Philippines region.

Without intervention measures in place, then the whole region would most likely become extinct. The government has been issuing conservation concessions but these are yet to take effect. Logging has continued especially in the lowland forests. This has reduced these forests to a very tiny fraction of what existed initially.

Despite protected areas and national parks being very crucial in the conservation efforts in the Philippines’ biodiversity, only 11 percent of the country’s total land area is currently protected. This is approximated to be around 32,000km2 out of the total land area of the whole country (300,000km2) (Conservation International, 2007).

Currently, there is no clear demarcation of the national park boundaries. Further more, government agencies involved in enforcement are doing little when it comes to matters of conservation. As a result, there is even a raging debate on the number of national parks existing in the country at the moment.

Already two-thirds of the national parks have been converted into human settlements whereas one-quarter of the national parks’ lands have been disturbed in one way or the other. For instance, many of the land areas have been converted and are being used for agricultural activities in the country. Other land areas supposed to be for national parks have been cleared for creating space to accommodate the ever increasing human population in the country (Conservation International, 2007).

On the other hand, a number of positives can be drawn from the conservation measures being undertaken in the Philippines. In the year 2002, the government of Philippines managed to reclaim five new protected areas. More over, the expansion of the Penablanca Protected Landscape and Seascape in the year 2003 was a big step towards concerted conservation measures in the country.

The expansion programme saw the area increase from 4,136 hectares to 118,108 hectares. In the recent past, the president issued a decree that saw the establishment of the Quirino Protected Landscape that covers 206,875 hectares in the northern Luzon area of Philippines (Conservation International, 2007).

There is a need to ensure that the already existing network of protected areas is able to conserve biodiversity in an adequate manner. This can be achieved through the government, as well as other stakeholders ensuring that Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) are conserved in an adequate way.

Other areas that do require intervention in terms of conservation include those with populations which are globally threatened by human activities. Further more, areas that have species which are geographically restricted should be conserved to protect these species.

In this case, KBAs are special biological areas set aside for endangered species. By so doing, these species of global conservation concern are able to be managed as a single unit within a given location. It is commendable that something is being done to conserve KBAs in the Philippines. For instance, a number of organizations are collaborating in an effort to identify and delineate all the KBAs found in Philippines.

These organizations are the Field Museum from Chicago, Conservation International-Philippines, Haribon Foundation, as well as other partners involved in the conservation of biodiversity hotspots in Philippines. The work of conservation undertaken by these organizations is to refine a number of broad-scale priorities that had been identified during the Biodiversity Conservation Priority-Setting Process held in the Philippines in the year 2000.

This work of biodiversity conservation receives much of support from CEPF. The Haribon Foundation had earlier identified 117 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in 2001 where most of the conservation efforts are directed. Normally, IBAs are areas that contain congregatory species which are threatened world wide with a restricted-range. Consequently, they offer these organizations a starting point when it comes to the collection of vital data that is used in the identification of KBAs.

Research is being undertaken on ways of conserving these biodiversity hotspots in Philippines. This research is vital in supporting efforts already underway in the creation of protected areas and support conservation activities.

The research has resulted into the discovery of new endemic species providing information that has to be directly fed into the refining and prioritization of KBAs. In addition, numerous activities are also being carried out concerning conservation in Philippines.

One of the organizations that is fully involved in conservation is the Philippine Cockatoo Conservation Program on Palawan. This organization has been involved in efforts aimed at reducing theft of eggs of the endangered species. The Cebu Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Program is involved in the protection of the last areas of forests that remain in the country.

The activities of this organization have been more pronounced especially after the rediscovery of species of the Cebu flowerpecker that had earlier been assumed to be extinct. By providing grants, organizations do support the conservation efforts that are on-going in the Philippines (The Utrecht Faculty of Education, 2011).

Some of the organizations which have been on the forefront in providing funds to conservation efforts include the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund and the Haribon Foundation. These organizations provide grants through organizing special programs, for instance, the Threatened Species Program.

However, long term measures are vital in the Philippines in order to include the conservation of landscape and the seascape. This ensures that there is complete conservation of the biodiversity hotspots in Philippines. Efforts have been on-going to ensure long term conservation of the endangered species in Philippines. Collaborations between organizations have been evident to this end.

Some of the targeted areas in these efforts include Palawan, Eastern Mindanao and Sierra Madre regions. Work in these regions has been coordinated by Conservation International in collaboration with the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund. Additionally, there has been the establishment of the Philippine Eagle Alliance charged with coordinating works undertaken by conservation groups operating in the country (The Utrecht Faculty of Education, 2011).

PART 4

Philippines is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of diversity and hence biodiversity hotspot. In 2000, the country was considered to have 52,177 species of flora and fauna. Out of this, 418 were listed as being endangered, a third of 9,000 species of flora are said to be endemic. Of the 165 mammal species, 121 are only found in this region of the world. From this data, it is therefore clear that many of the species in the country are threatened. There are a number of species which have been lost in the Philippines over time.

Rhinoceros and Elephants

In the past few years, different animal fossils have been discovered in the Philippines. These fossils have made scientists believe that animals like rhinoceros and elephants used to live in Philippines. Additionally, the scientists have been able to identify two species of elephants and one of rhinoceros that live during yesteryears. The elephant species were Elaphas beyeri and Elaphas cf. namadicus whereas the rhinoceros was called Rhinoceros philippinensis (Conservation International, 2007).

Monkey-eating eagles

Scientists believe these are some of the largest eagles ever to live on earth. Its scientific name is Pithecophaga jefferyi and is believed to be living in the rainforests of Samar, Mindanao, Isabela and Leyte.

The eagle feeds on hornbills, large snakes, civet cats, monkeys, and flying lemurs. The eagle creates nests over 39 meters the ground. Currently, scientists estimate that there are about 100 to 300 meaning that they are like to be extinct.

Philippines hence has to protect these remaining species so that they do not become extinct. These eagles included Sulu hornbill, Philippine cockatoo, Palawan peasant pheasant, Cebu black shama and the Mindoro imperial pigeon. However, the Philippine Eagle is a symbol of the efforts by Egyptians in environmental conservation. It represents the decision of the people regarding the conversation of forests and country (Conservation International, 2007).

Flying Lemur

The Flying Lemur is the most distinct creatures which still exist in Philippines. In a single leap, this creature can glide around 100 meters. This creature only moves around at night, just like the lemurs of Asia. The creature has a head that resembles a frog. On the other hand, the body of the Lemur is like that of a Canadian flying squirrel.

The creature is called kagwang in the Mindanao region. World wide, the creature is referred to as the flying lemur (colugo). The creature consists of two species namely the Cynocephalus variegates. A mature lemur is 1 to 1.7 kilograms whereas its length ranges from 14 to 17 inches. Additionally, the species which has small ears, wide flat head with big eyes has its 12-inch tail connected by way of a patagium.

The continuous destruction of tropical forests in Philippines is such a big threat to the existence of kagwang. Some of the common areas for this creature were Leyte, Mindanao, Samar, Basilan and Bohol. Currently, there are no records which can tell the exact number of kagwang remaining in the country (Conservation International, 2007).

Bats

It is said that there are at least 56 bat species in Philippines. The smallest and largest bat species out f the 1,000 species available are found in Philippines. In the world, the smallest bat species is the Philippine bamboo bat (vespertilionid). The bat, found in Philippines, belongs to the family of vespertilionid. Its length is about 4 centimeters whereas its widespan is 15 centimeters. Its weight is expected to be around 1.5 grams.

On the other hand, the largest bat species stays mostly in the thick forest around Bataan and Subic Bay. The largest bats are the golden crown flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus) and the giant flying fox (Acerodon jubatus). These bats have for years been living in the Subic Forest National Protected Area.

This is 10,000 hectare area acting as the biggest roosting site for bats world wide. However, a giant flying fox weighs 1.1 kilograms, making it heavier than the golden crown flying fox. The golden crown has a wingspan of six feet, hence making it the largest among all bats. It is worthy noting that the two species are just among the 15 bats species that exist in the Philippines.

On the other hand, bat species that used to inhabit other parts of the Philippines are believed to be extinct. These species include the Panay fruit bat or Acerodon Lucifer and bare-backed fruit bat or Dobsonia chapmani. The only highly endangered bat species in the country currently the Nyctimene rabori, also known as the Philippine tube-nosed bat. There have been warnings that this species has to be protected (Conservation International, 2007).

Last Remnants of Dinosaur Age

The only living remnants of the dinosaur age are said to sea turtles. However, if there are no efforts to protect these turtles, they are likely to follow the dinosaurs into extinction. In the world, there are over 220 species of turtles. Of these species, seven species are considered marine.

There are five species of turtles in the Philippines. These include Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea), Green (Chelonia mydas), Loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea). Typically, a Philippine Sea Turtle’s weight ranges between 180-210 kilograms, making it hard for it to retract its head, as well as limbs under its streamlined shell.

The Green Sea Turtle is the most common species in Philippines growing to upto 1.5 meters long and weighing 185 kilograms. Further more, growing to more than two meters in length, the Leatherback Turtle is thus the largest species in the world (Conservation International, 2007).

Smallest Hoofed Mammal

The Philippine mouse deer (Tragalus nigricans) is the smallest hoofed mammal in the world. This mammal resides in the South of Palawan on the Balabac Island. The mammal is only 40 centimeters. However, in the other countries, the mammal is referred to as Chevrotain.

Contrary to the real deer, the male species does not have antlers. In self-defence, the mammal, therefore, uses its canine teeth. Other mouse deer species in the world include the African water chevrotain and the Malay mouse deer (napu). These species are can be found in India, Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka.

The World Conservation Union is worried because of the alarming rate at which these mouse deer species were disappearing. Consequently, the organization, in the year 1996, did declare these mouse deer species as an endangered species (Conservation International, 2007).

Most Endangered Deer

In the dwindling forest of Panay Island in the Philippines, there lives one of the mammals considered the world’s rarest. Considered the most endangered deer in the world, this mammal is the Philippine spotted deer (Cervus alfredi). This mammal is 80 centimeters. Over years, these species have been reducing in number making them to be declared endangered.

In many cases, these deer species have had their habitats damaged, reduced or altered hence risking their existence. A survey done in 1985 showed that only a small population of the original number of the Philippine spotted deer was found (Conservation International, 2007).

Calamian Deer

In the Calamian Islands, there lives a deer species that is not found anywhere else in the world. Consequently, scientists decided to refer to it as the Calamian deer in order to distinguish it from all other hog deer species in the world. Ordinarily, one Calamian deer measures 105 to 115 centimeters long and 60 to 65 centimeters high.

Additionally, they weigh 36 to 50 kilograms. Compared to other hog deer species, the Calamian deer has longer and darker legs. Their populations have been dropping since the early 1940s to levels described as being “dangerously low” in the 1970s. For instance, by 1996, the population had dropped to only 900. This prompted conservationists to declare the Calamian deer as an endangered species (Conservation International, 2007).

Largest Endangered Animal

In the early 1900s, there used to be about 10,000 heads of pygmy water buffalos that were unique in the island of Mindoro, in the Philippines. Currently, these water buffalos are not anymore. There are fears that these water buffalos may be extinct meaning that Mindoro might lose its only symbol of pride.

These water buffalos (Bubalus mindorensis), also known as the Tamaraws are believed to be the largest land animal that is endangered in the Philippines at the moment. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared the Tamaraws as one of the ten most endangered species world wide in the year 1996. Currently, there are only about 20 heads of Tamaraws still existing from the 10,000 heads that were there in the early 1900s (Conservation International, 2007).

Endangered Cockatoos

Some of the most exotic birds in the world are found in the Philippines. Scientists have been able to document 577 bird species that live in the Philippine archipelago. 185 of these species are endemic to the Philippines. Consequently, the Bird Life International has listed 116 of these bird species as being threatened.

The most endangered species of them all is the Philippine cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia). This bird species belong to the parrot’s family with a capacity to live for over 50 years. Known for mimicking human voices, they are 33 centimeters long weighing 0.29 kilograms. Only about 1,000 to 4,000 of this species remain and is restricted to the Pandanan Island and El Nido Marine Reserve (Conservation International, 2007).

World’s Largest Fish

In the town of Sorsogon in the Philipines, there is a group of 40 whale sharks (Rhincodon typus). This fish species is considered as being the largest fish in the world. They are 18 to 35 feet long weighing 20 tons.

Given their special features, the Philippine government declared this shark species as being endangered in 1998. This meant that it was illegal to exploit them. Responsibility for promoting eco-tourism aimed at protecting the shark species has been transferred to the Department of Tourism in the region of Donsol (Conservation International, 2007).

World’s Smallest Fish

The smallest freshwater fish in the world is found in the Philippines. Measuring 1.2 centimeters, the dwarf goby (Pandaka pygmaea) is said to be the tiniest vertebrate alive on earth. It was discovered by American Ichthyologist Albert Herre in 1925 in the Malabon River. Additionally, there is the sinarapan (Mistichthys luzonensis) which is said to be the smallest commercial fish in the world. The Sinarapan is 1.25 centimeters. Uncontrolled fishing in the Philippines threatens the survival of this species (Conservation International, 2007).

World’s Smallest Monkey

Measuring only 12 centimeters, the Philippine tarsier (Tarsius syrichta) is said to be the smallest primate in the world. The monkey has two big eyes which cannot move and it has no protective cover for the eyes. In order to survive, the monkey has learned to turn its head 180 degrees. It weighs between 117 and 134 grams.

These monkey species are found in the islands of Bohol, Samar, Mindanao and Leyte. Currently, only 1,000 species of the monkey exist in the Philippines. The government has formed the Philippine Tarsier Foundation Inc. which is mandated to ensure that these monkeys are conserved (Conservation International, 2007).

Endemic Plants

There are over 9,000 tree species in the Philippines. Out of these, 200 are fruit trees. Some of the endemic fruit trees found in the Philippines include the mabolo, durian, bignay and pili. The Bignay tree (Antidesa bunius) grows upto a height of 10.6 meters. The fruit diameter ranges between 8 and 10 millimeters. The tree has medicinal value in that its leaves are used in the treatment of snakebite.

PART 5

Summary and Conclusion

Biodiversity hotspots are vital as they support the livelihoods of plant and animal species that are endangered. In this case, conservation of such areas is critical as they provide habitats to some species that are of benefit to human beings. Students who may be far ought to be concerned about hotspots as these are areas that support lives of interesting species in the world. It is, therefore, crucial that international support be provided to conservation efforts. These areas are vital in scientific research and, therefore, should be conserved at all times.

This support from the international community should be in the form of grants directed towards conservation efforts. Laws and regulations should be instituted to guard exploitation of these species. Poachers and those engaged in overfishing ought to be prosecuted. Policies to control population growth rates should be formulated. This is to guard against population explosion that leads into clearing of forest reserves for accommodation and agricultural purposes.

References

Alave, K. L. (2011). Hottest’ of biodiversity hot spots found in Philippines. Retrieved from: http://globalnation.inquirer.net/2790/%E2%80%98hottest%E2%80%99-of- biodiversity- hot-spots-found-in-philippines

Australian Government. (2009). Biodiversity hotspots. Retrieved from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/hotspots/index.html

BBC. (2011). Philippines country profile. Retrieved from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/country_profiles/1262783.stm

Conservation International. (2005). Biodiversity Hotspots. Retrieved from: http://www.cnrs.fr/inee/recherche/fichiers/Biodiversite_hotspots.pdf

Conservation International. (2007). Biodiversity Hotspots. Philippines. Retrieved from: http://www.biodiversityhotspots.org/xp/hotspots/philippines/Pages/default.aspx

Guerero, L. (2007). The Philippines: A Climate Hotspot. Climate Change Impacts and the Philippines. Retrieved from: http://www.greenpeace.org/raw/content/seasia/en/press/reports/the-philippines- a-climate-hot.pdf

The Utrecht Faculty of Education. (2011). The Philippines. Retrieved from: http://www.philippines.hvu.nl/palawan1.htm

U.S Department of State. (2011). Background Note: Philippines. Retrieved from: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2794.htm

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