Hottest of the Hotspots
Worldwide, scientists have identified ecological "hotspots," or regions with significant biodiversity that are facing dire threats from humans. With their abundance of unique plants and animals, islands are often numbered about the planet's hotspots, but now one set of islands is calling itself "the hottest of the hotspots." The Philippines, an archipelago in Southeast Asia containing over 7,000 islands, is one of the world's most diverse places, but because of human activity, the rate of species is extinction is about 1,000 times the natural rate, said Undersecretary Demetrio Ignacio of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
In the Philippines, as in many islands, the primary threat is from habitat loss due to deforestation and coral reef destruction. It is estimated that less than six percent of the Philippines' original forests remain intact, along with only five percent of its marine habitats, and these practices continue to destroy the remaining environments. At least on land, the country is seeking to stem this tide of biodiversity loss, with reforestation programs. But the country lacks cannot afford to adequately protect all its marine and coastal areas from destruction, and threats to both forest and coral reefs continue to multiply.
Coral destruction is fatal not only to marine wildlife, but sometimes to human inhabitants as well; about 70 percent of small communities derive their primary income from fishing, and much of this fishing comes from coral reef ecosystems. This dependence extends throughout all of Asia, where an estimated 1 million people depend on coral reefs for food and livelihood.
Rodel Subade, director of the University of the Philippines Visayas Institute of Fisheries, Policy, and Development Studies, was quoted in a recent article about biodiversity. While the threat is extremely serious, Subade says, the solutions are difficult: "For [biodiversity loss] to be stopped, we would need the participation of all stakeholders, particularly the people in the community near the biodiversity areas. But this is difficult to attain or sustain." He also pointed to alternative livelihood programs as another important element in combating such loss is the development of, so that individuals are empowered to support themselves and their families in sustainable ways. And Subade believes that the establishment of marine protected areas, or MPAs, are "the most effective tool...in saving the last remaining coral reefs in the country."
While the threats faced by the Philippines and other islands are truly staggering, it is heartening to hear that solutions do exist. Seacology has several projects in the Philippines, where we work with local villages to protect their natural resources and uplift the communities. Although the area we protect is only a small fraction of the entire nation, in a hotspot like the Philippines, every acre counts.
Above, an MPA off the coast of Palawan Island in the Philippines, part of a Seacology conservation project. Photo by Ferdie Marcelo.