Research, science must drive the inclusion of biodiversity protection and conservation in local dev’t plans

Cebu City—Research and assessments on biodiversity and conservation should inform and shape the formulation of local government development plans such as the Comprehensive Land Use Plan and Forest Land Use Plan to address threats to biodiversity, Dr. Archiebald Baltazar Malaki of Cebu Technological University (CTU)- Climate Change and Resilience Center Director, said this during the sixth episode of Klima Ug Kalikupan entitled “Ang Karon ug Ugma: Biodiversity sa Sugbo.”

The Philippines is home to 60% to 70% of the world’s biodiversity with 683 bird species (180 are endemic), 109 species of amphibians (88 are endemic), 250 reptile species, 201 land mammal species (127 are endemic), 20,940 species of insects (estimated 14,658 is endemic), 308 freshwater fishes (48 are endemic), 40 mangrove species, and 16, 223 flora species.

As each species bears intrinsic and extrinsic values constituting a healthy ecosystem, ecological life support, and cultural identity, Dr. Malaki appealed to the government to prioritize biodiversity conservation.

Assessing biodiversity and its threats in Cebu

In 2020, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) funded the “Flora and Fauna Assessment Using Permanent Biodiversity Monitoring System in Cebu Island Key Biodiversity Areas,” where Dr. Malaki participated as the project leader.

The study identified 471 floral species, 71 bird species, 21 mammal species, 18 herpetofauna species, and 26 land snail species across Mt. Lantoy, Nug-as Forest, Mt. Capayas, and Mt. Lanaya.

While land snails receive minimal awareness from researchers and the public, it embodies ecological function and economic value. According to Dr. Raamah Rosales, CTU-Integrated Coastal Resources Management Center Director, land snails function as food, cosmetics, medicine, and bioindicator, provide livelihood income, and contribute to the nutrient cycle. He warned the public that overcollection or exploitation of land snails can result in ecological instability. 

There is also a perceptible decline in the island of bird species individuals such as Black Shama, Everett’s White Eye, Elegant Tit, Philippine Cuckoo Dove, Red Jungle Fowl, and Buff-eared Brown.

 “Habitat degradation and hunting are some of the threats to birds in the area. The forest is patchy which can be improved through habitat restoration and the planting of diverse native trees. Cut trees can be seen along the trail. Woods used for charcoal-making might come from native trees in the area. Charcoal-making pits can be seen along the bird monitoring route,” Ava Arnejo, Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Officer II of Sogod in Cebu, shared during the webcast.

Dr. Malaki added deforestation, particularly tree cutting and kaingin, forest disturbance, and land use conversion as primary threats to biodiversity in the region.

Using citizen science in biodiversity conservation

Despite the growing number of studies and assessments on biodiversity, a big gap still lies between science, policy, and the public.

Arnejo suggested utilizing the “citizen science approach,” wherein technical information and data are popularized among laypeople.

“In citizen science, you’re teaching people who are not in the field of science the scientific principles in a way that they can understand, in a language they can understand,” she further explained.

Dr. Rosales agreed with Arnejo and sought the need to translate scientific data and assessments into government policies and interventions. He noted that collective action from the citizens, who serve as the frontline defense of wildlife, is vital to biodiversity protection.

Strengthening biodiversity conservation at the community level 

To aid in biodiversity protection and conservation, Arnejo also recommended conducting continued surveys and monitoring at least twice a year to generate the baseline data of wildlife species.
She emphasized that habitat assessments and other ecological studies enrich the understanding of species and provide legislators with factual data for their guidelines, policies, and action plans.
Dr. Malaki added the need for an information campaign focused on raising awareness of the welfare of species, the preservation of their habitats, and the importance of biodiversity conservation.