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Biodiversity summit on Verde Island

November 12, 2006

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AMBIENT VOICES
By Ma. Isabel Ongpin
Manila Times, Nov. 10, 2006

THE Philippines is rising to the challenge of being a biodiversity hotspot. Last Wednesday, November 8, a biodiversity summit was held on Verde Island, the sentinel of the much-crossed Verde Island Passage between Luzon and the Visayas.

Led by President Arroyo herself and organized by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources with Secretary Angelo Reyes and his wide spectrum of staff specialists, ably assisted by private sector groups and non­government organizations with the participation of local government officials and international environmental organizations, the Verde Island summit on biodiversity had a formal output—a pledge to conserve and protect Philippine biodiversity in multiple ways by a wide range of entities and citizens so as to hand it unchanged and unimpaired to the younger generation.

Kent Carpenter himself of the World Conservation Union, who together with Victor Springer of the Smithsonian Institution did the pioneering study on global marine shore fish biodiversity which concludes that the Verde Island Passage has the highest concentration of diverse marine species on the planet, was present and gave his lecture on the subject.

The good news as he said was that through the unique geology of the Philippines and how it was formed in the movement of land masses from north to south and vice versa. Through high seismic activity, a wide range of marine life has survived, flourished and generated because of isolated water basins. As a result, the isolation factor has made for enough diversity to make the Philippines’ Verde Island Passage indisputably the center of marine diversity in the world.

The bad news is that the Philippines is one of the most threatened environments in the planet, a so-called hot spot where a threatened and degraded environment can endanger if not extinguish its very rich and diverse life forms. For the Verde Island Passage the primary dangers are marine pollution, habitat destruction and the lack of capacity to enforce laws.

Because Verde Island passage is the marine route from the north to south and vice versa in this country, it bears heavy traffic from passenger vessels to oil tankers, international shipping vehicles and local commercial transport. Dangerous chemicals aside from oil regularly pass through it. An accident like the Guimaras oil spill would be cataclysmic for its marine treasures. Meanwhile, ships have been known as a matter of practice to regularly discharge their trash along the way including Verde Island Passage before reaching port. Simultaneously, in surrounding areas over­fishing and illegal fishing methods are still going on which are already causing the disappearance of commercial fish in many former fishing grounds. Improper or intensive land use in coastal areas also takes its toll in erosion which causes damage to marine resources by making their environment less hospitable. Deforestation has its bad effects too.

These pernicious events could definitely affect the biodiversity of Verde Island Passage. But the President, the DENR together with other government agencies, virtually all of whom were present at the Biodiversity Summit, have announced their commitment to protect Philippine biodiversity using all government agencies necessary and coordinating with the private sector through business, civic spirited citizens and the youth to go on high gear for conservation and protection.

Private sector participation will be vital and already the challenge has been taken up by the Lopez Group’s power-generation company First Gen which has already led in the formation of the Verde Island Passage Marine Corridor Integrated Conservation and Development Program with an initial investment close to P3.6 million, a commitment of P8 million for the second phase and a further pledge made at the Biodiversity Summit of $1 million. Other business corporations like the Ma­lampaya Gas Corporation, Keppel Shipyards, JG Summit and others are making their own pledges for the project.

The Verde Island Passage Marine Corridor Integrated Conservation and Development Program has the participation of experienced conservation groups led by Conservation International Philippines, First Philippine Conservation, Inc. as well as Batangas province and the City of Batangas whose officials were present led by the governor and the mayor. National environment groups like Mother Earth and the Green Army are taking part.

Also partnering will be the Department of Education who will include the biodiversity in the Philippines in its curriculum to raise awareness and promote conservation and the Philippine Coast Guard who will protect the sealanes.

Other provinces whose activities can impact on Verde Island Passage were at the conference like Mindoro right across from Verde Island and Romblon. Congressman Banaag, Chair of the Congress Committee on Natural Resources, listed an impressive number of bills for environmental protection passed by the House and are now awaiting Senate action.

Many issues were tackled including the delineation of Protected Areas and National Parks nationally which the environmentalist lawyer, Antonio Oposa, urged the government to continue pursuing and implementing. A request for a cabinet cluster on the environment was presented by Romy Trono of Conservation International Philippines.

It was a high profile event appropriately enough placed on Verde Island itself which turned out to be a literally green island with bamboo groves and forest cover going all the way to the coastline. It has two marine sanctuaries and a number of beach resorts as well as diving opportunities for the Verde Island Passage marine riches. And its felicitous name appropriately enough graces the center of the center of marine biodiversity in the planet.

Related blog entry here.

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One comment

  1. I found this article thru google and i’d love to learn more about Verde Island. I’m an Environmental Planning and Management student in Miriam College and currently working on an advocacy plan with regard to Biodiversity. I’d be greatly pleased if you want to give some suggestions for this advocacy we’re working on. Thanks for posting this aricle



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