THINK ON THESE: Learning Siargao’s biodiversity via puzzle game

More than four years ago, my sister Marilou and I had the pleasure of visiting Siargao Island in Surigao del Norte. We had a grand time touring some of its scenic spots.

The tear-drop shaped island has a land area of approximately 437 square kilometers. The coastline is marked by a succession of reefs, small points, and white, sandy beaches. It is known around the world for its famous “Cloud 9” wave.

What most Filipinos don’t know is that Siargao island is also a home to hundreds of species of plants and fauna, according to a study conducted by the Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) members of Division V (Biological Sciences).

The NRCP team, who was led by Dr. Cecilia Banag-Moran, discovered around 110 species of plants and 403 species of animals from the aquatic and terrestrial habitats in the municipality of Del Carmen alone.

The team believed the said town is home to “remarkable plant and beach forest species and possible new species of frog, rat, tarsier, insects, marine fish and decapod crustaceans.”

“With this rich diversity, a move for the global importance of Del Carmen, Siargao should be considered for its conservation and sustainability,” the NRCP said in a statement posted on its website.

Among those identified by the team were 11 amphibians, 14 mammals, 23 reptiles, 52 birds, and 81 marine fish. They also found nine species of plants and 34 species of terrestrial vertebrates, which are endemic to the Philippines.

“In addition to this, 45 species of plants and 17 species of terrestrial vertebrates are not yet assessed for their conservation status,” the NCRP said.

Now, to inspire learners to learn more about the rich biodiversity of Siargao Island, a game application titled, “Siargao Flora & Fauna Puzzle” was developed by the NRCP.

The Siargao Flora & Fauna Puzzle game app, an offline game, is similar to one of the most played mobile games, Candy Crush. What makes it appealing and more educational, it introduces new animal species, instead, on specific levels.

According to the press release we received, each level is an idle and visual way to understand the habitat and behavior of island’s natural treasures like Mindanao Flying Tree, Paka Gadikit, and Platymantis Paka through the app feature called, “Siargao Journal.”

The offline smartphone game was created as a result of a NRCP grant. Scientific research findings are translated into entertaining and interesting platforms through the Council’s Leveraging Basic Research Information Translation for Empowerment in the Regions Program (BRITER), which supports the advancement of basic research and a science culture among youth throughout the country’s regions.

“Let us explore Siargao Island through this game app, especially for our children, and learn more about the types of plants and animals that continue to thrive in Siargao’s rich biodiversity,” Representative Francisco Jose Matugas II of Surigao del Norte First Congressional District endorsed the NRCP game application to parents and children.

Cong. Matugas emphasized that the game app is a fun, safe, and educational tool for learning about the island’s natural species.

“The success of the Siargao Flora & Fauna Puzzle underscores the positive impact of the DOST-NRCP’s initiatives in promoting basic research nationwide,” the news release said. “Local leaders and members of the lower house are increasingly recognizing the value of evidence-based research studies in shaping policies and crafting legislation.”

The Philippines, described as “jam-packed with diverse species,” can be likened to that of Noah’s Ark during the Old Testament of the Bible. But with its unique species now fast dwindling, some of them may join the dodo into extinction.

As a matter of fact, our country is described as “a biodiversity hotspot.” “This is because the Philippines continues to experience an alarming rate of destruction of these important resources brought about by overexploitation, deforestation, land degradation, climate change, and pollution (including biological pollution), among others,” said the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB), a line agency of the environment department.

“The country hosts more than 52,177 described species of which more than half is found nowhere else in the world,” it further said. “On a per unit area basis, the Philippines probably harbors more diversity of life than any other country on the planet.”

Almost 100 mammal species are endemic to the Philippines. In recent years, experts have discovered more than a dozen species of mammals in the country seen nowhere in the world.

Among those that have been identified as facing extinction, as their population continues to dwindle, include the Philippine eagle, Philippine tarsier, tamaraw, waling-waling, the two types of crocodiles and the five species of marine turtles.

“We have an abundance of natural resources. But all this wealth is at great risk,” said Senator Loren Legarda in a speech delivered during the First National Biodiversity Congress some years back.

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