THINK ON THESE: Protect Our Species

THINK ON THESE by Henrylito D. Tacio

Last April 22, the world celebrated Earth Day.  This year’s theme was: “Protect our species.”

The species refer to the various flora, fauna and microorganisms that inhabit our planet.  They comprise what scientists call as biological diversity, more popularly known for its shorter version, biodiversity.

“Stronger biodiversity protection efforts must be put in place to prevent loss of species especially since thousands of species are becoming extinct every year,” said Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate Committee on Climate Change, in a statement.

The US-based Earth Day Network said that normally, between one and five species will go extinct annually. However, scientists estimate the world is now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the normal rate.

According to Legarda, biodiversity loss, which is mainly caused by habitat destruction and wildlife trade, is heightened because of climate change. Studies indicate that 30% of species would be at risk of extinction due to the warming climate.

“We need to take greater action to protect the delicate ecological balance. It is incumbent upon us humans, who are the stewards of the Earth, to be more responsible as most of our actions are the very threats to other species,” she stressed.

“There needs to be stronger convergence among government agencies and local government units and collaboration with the private sector, civil society and all our citizens, to protect our species and conserve our biodiversity,” she added.

Legarda said that the government must strictly enforce laws that protect biodiversity, such as the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2001, the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992, and the Expanded NIPAS of 2018, which she principally authored.

“I authored the Expanded NIPAS Act, which covers 94 protected areas all over the country, so that we have the legal mechanism to protect critical biodiversity areas and prevent biodiversity loss. The challenge for us is to ensure its strict implementation and promote awareness on the importance of conserving biodiversity and of the underlying threats to it,” the lady senator said.

The Philippines, with more than 7,000 islands, is considered by respected scientists as one of the countries with the highest degree of biological diversity (biodiversity for short) in the world.

The Philippines is home to about 170,000 faunal species, most of which are insects and are mostly unidentified, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Twelve thousand plant species and 960 animal species are found in Philippine forests.  Of the identified animal species, over 500 are birds and 167 are mammals.

Out of the 500 known coral species worldwide, about 488 coral species in 78 genera are found in the Philippines.  There are only about 50 species of seagrasses in the world.  A total of 16 species can be found in the country, and this is the second highest diversity that exist in one country; only Western Australia has more with 17 species.  At least 2,000 fish species are found in the Philippines.

About 98 of mammal species are endemic to the Philippines.  In the last seven years, experts have discovered 12 mammal species in the country seen nowhere else on the planet.  “The number compares with other countries like Brazil,” says Philippine fauna specialist Dr. Lawrence Heaney of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.  “But compare their sizes.  For such a small area, the Philippine rockets ahead.”

For the uninformed, Brazil has a total land area of 3,286,488 square kilometers while the Philippines has a total land area of 115,800 square kilometers.  The neighbor Indonesia, another biodiversity-rich country, has a total land area of 741,101 square kilometers.

While its biodiversity is among the highest, the Philippines’ ecosystems are among the most threatened.  In fact, most scientists included the entire Philippine archipelago as among the five biogeographical areas in the world considered the “hottest of the hot spots,” a hot spot being an area whose high biodiversity is gravely threatened.

Dr. Lee Talbot, director of Southeast Asia Project on Wildlife Conser­vation of Nature and Natural Resources, agreed: “A few decades ago, the wildlife of the Philippines was notable for its abundance; now, it is notable for its variety; if present trend of destruction continues, Philippine wildlife will be notable for its absence.”

A species is considered extinct when it is no longer found in the past 50 years.  Endangered species are those that have been reduced in number to a critical level or whose habitats have been damaged or altered or reduced.

Rare species have small world populations.  Usually, they are restricted to very few habitats.  At present, rare species are not considered endangered but at risk.  Threatened, on the other hand, is a general term used to describe the animal or plant species which could be in the status of “endan­gered” and “insufficiently known.”

Speaking during the celebration of the International Day of Biodiversity last year, which was spearheaded by the Biodiversity Management Bureau, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said: “We are facing a natural scarcity due to numerous factors, foremost is the degradation of our terrestrial and marine ecosystems.”

This has been highlighted in its first ever Philippine Environmental Quality Report some years back.  It said: “Today’s threats to species and ecosystems are the greatest in recorded history.  Virtually all of them are caused by human mismanagement of biological resources, often stimulated by misguided economic policies and faulty institutions that enable the exploiters to avoid the full costs of their exploitation.”