Archive for the ‘environmental stress’ Category

Kinunot—Bicol’s shark food & the way to environmental conservation

April 8, 2009

Bicolanos have a delicious way of cooking sharks.—fresh slices of the shark’s meat boiled with thick coconut milk, vinegar, chilies, and corns of black pepper. With a dash of salt, the native dish kinunot is accented with green pepper leaves or malunggay (Moringa.) They give the tropical cuisine its tasty flavor and smooth aroma when eaten with hot rice.

That’s what the fishermen of Donsol, Sorsogon did to a wayward rare megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios) caught recently in the coast of Burias Island, a wildlife haven of whale sharks (Butanding,) dolphins. and giant manta rays. The sea hunters were out to fish for the usual bounty of the sea, but what they got last March 30, 2009 was an astounding surprise.

According to the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF,) the huge shark was the only one so far found in Sorsogon-Masbate, a fascinating area located in southern tip of Luzon in the Philippines. Measuring 4 meters long and weighing about 500-kg, the impressive fish with blue-gray exterior could be the 41st of its kind reported in the world.

“The first specimen was caught off Oahu, Hawaii in 1976. So different was it from all other sharks that it necessitated the creation of an entirely new family and genus – prompting the scientific community to hail it as the 20th century’s most significant marine find – rivaling the rediscovery of the coelacanth in 1938,” —WWF. Philstar (04/07/09 Andraneda, K)

Evidently, many people of Bicol didn’t know the significance of their unexpected catch which unfortunately ended up in the cooking pan. Kinunot is tasty and very nutritious. Other than being food in the dinner table, conservationists however were quick to educate the townspeople of megamouth shark’s bigger importance.

The WWF are working with Sorsogon and Masbate to protect the habitat of the endangered sharks and other precious treasures of the sea. At the same time the evnironmental group helps in developing eco-tourism which which is friendly to the animals and brings livelihood to the residents of the area.(Photo Credit: WWF/ Philstar) =0=

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Hundreds of dolphins disoriented in shallow Philippine waters

February 11, 2009

There’s a great deal of empathy that was elicited by the sight of hundreds of dolphins stranded in shallow waters of Orion and Pilar, Bataan, somewhere close to Manila Bay in the Philippines. For reasons that aren’t clear, the docile and friendly sea mammals were stranded on Tuesday, February 10, 2008, unable to swim back to deeper waters.

Fishermen and town folks from neighboring villages came in droves to help drive the melon-head dolphins, numbering about 200 to 300, back to sea. Admirably, the villagers followed the appeal of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to help and not harm the marooned animals.

“The unusual occurrence may have been triggered by a sea quake that could have damaged the dolphins’ eardrums and disoriented them, or the pod could have been following a sick or injured leader, Malcolm Sarmiento, director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, said in a telephone interview.”—-AOL News/ AP (02/10/09, Marquez, B; Cerojano, C)

Though the group of agile air-breathing animals eventually made it to the open sea, there were three dolphins found dead. One was pregnant and one was a young baby. According to the animal doctor who examined the remains, two adult dolphins revealed fractured eardrums. (Photo Credit: Malaya) =0=

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Buhi’s tabios—world’s smallest edible fish still suffers excessive predation

February 8, 2009

Despite protective ordinances to help tabios thrive, the smallest edible fish in the world (Mistithys luzonensis) is still threatened by extinction in Camarines Sur. Also known as sinarapan, the fish is still under strain in its natural habitat in Lake Buhi because of over-grazing and changes in its fresh-water home.

“Ronilo H. Leal, lake management officer of Buhi town local government unit (LGU), pointed out to the rampant use of motorized post nets in the 1980s which he said totally banished the sinarapan from Lake Buhi in the 1980s.

Going by the 10 percent fish-cage occupation required by the zoning provision of RA 8550, the proliferation of fish cages here have exceeded what the law requires, occupying some 20 percent of the 1,800-ha area of Lake Buhi (located 300 ft. above sea level), according to Leal. —-Bicol Mail (02/05/09, Escandor J. Jr; Davila, J. R.)

Aside from excessive hunting by local fishermen in Buhi, Camarines Sur, the construction of fish cages to raise commercial tilapia altered fish habitat, decreasing and crowding the small tabios. The edible goby which measures about 10 mm. and inhabits the 18-hectare lake in Bicol is a delicacy in the area. It also thrives in adjacent fresh water sanctuaries like Lake Bato, Manapao and Katugday.

Sinarapan almost disappeared in the 1980s and the local government resorted to setting free tabios fries on the lake to augment its population. Though the program had been so far partially successful, excessive fish harvest persisted. Natural predation by other fish species continued to pose problems against the fish survival.

Collective effort to save the fish is on going, but unless measures to protect sinarapan are implemented, extinction (though conservation urgency is low at this time,) is still possible. (Photo Credit: Nindy2008; Lake Buhi, PD x2) =0=

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My caged munias & the birds in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s mind

November 20, 2008

The captive munias (rignos, mayas; chestnut mannikins,) didn’t escape my mind when I read the old elegant lines from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s paean for the birds, part of what he wrote in May-Day and Other Pieces. The 19th century American essayist-poet’s beautifully crafted words made my heart thumping as thoughts of childhood crossed my mind. All the birds which I wanted as pets died. I was regretful. From the ugly experience, I wondered if I truly learned wholesome values mentioned by the great inspiring American writer-philosopher in the following lines:


O birds, your perfect virtues bring,
Your song, your forms, your rhythmic flight,
Your manners for your heart’s delight,
Nestle in hedge, or barn, or roof,
Here weave your chamber weather-proof,
Forgive our harms, and condescend
To man, as to a lubber friend,
And, generous, teach his awkward race
Courage, and probity, and grace!”

—from May Day and Other Pieces by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

I felt remorse over keeping those mayas in a small bamboo cage. For measly 5 centavos each, I bought the tiny birds at the gate of the grade school where I studied. At home, I was excited to play with the popular avian species which frequent the grasses and rice paddies of Bicol. With fast wings ready to fly, their feet were restrained by strings tied on my hand.

The mayas were good to see inside the bamboo cage on the window sill. Each time I went near, feathers hummed like the sound of an electric razor. Brighter and more vibrant than Joseph’s dream coat, their fluffy feathers and tiny feet were wonderful.

I sensed their fear and boredom even if I fed them with rice grains from the fields. It was stupid of me to egg them to bathe in a water basin the way ducks do in the marsh. Recalling how they groomed when rain left pools of water on the pavement outside, I watched them flap their fiery brown wings. I craved that they lay eggs in a nest I made from dried zakate leaves.

Their silvery beaks were no match to the rigid bamboo enclosure which they tried to break. Their brown puzzling eyes sought every little chance to escape and be free.

If they could speak, they might have insisted flying up the lemon tree or have them build nests in a bush as thorny as the bougainvilleas. I heard them burst in a beautiful song with the soul of a passing breeze. In spite of my watch, all of them didn’t last. One after another, they died.

Although I was pure and diligent in my care for the munias, I knew they succumbed to stress. The alert birds badly needed liberty and they might have been distressed like the idle prisoners in jail. So self-absorbed of having them, I couldn’t resist keeping them in the cage. At that age, I had little idea what cruelty meant.

Nobody convinced me that my effort to make the birds happy made them even more sad. Had I known, I would have treated them humanely by just setting them free. As Ralph Waldo Emerson whose respect for nature and God were strong when he wrote years ago, I couldn’t resist saying, “forgive our harms, and condescend.” (Photo Credits: Edmondcv210;____; neon2rosell; CharlesLam; floridapfd; GurpalKaher; Nils) =0

Despite conservation effort, 1/3 of world’s coral reefs face danger of extinction

October 22, 2008

Palawan’s Tubbataha National Marine Park is designated by the United Nations Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as one of the World’s Heritage sites. It is being considered among the planet’s 7 new natural wonders. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) vice chair Lory Yap (Philippines) said the fish biomass in the reef practically doubled from 2004-2005 through regulated tourism and wildlife management.

Yet, in a separate report, 45 poachers were recently nabbed by marine park rangers in the area. The poachers attempted to bribe their way to gather an endangered sea-shell called samung (Tochus noliticus.) used to make commercial buttons and jewelry, sought for by traders in Cebu.

Conservation proponents continue to face an uphill battle against people who disregard efforts to protect and save the environment. More than 200 samung collectors this year have been apprehended in Tubbataha Reef in violation of an international agreement which penalizes violators to up to 12 to 20 years in prison.

In spite of such effort, about a third of the world’s coral reefs still face extinction because of climate change, sedimentation, and human intrusion. The ominous environmental changes and build up of pollution have hampered the reefs to rebuild, preventing fish and other marine life to thrive. Philstar (10/22/08, Ercheminada, P)

According to WWF spokesman, Gregg Yan, a kilometer square of undamaged coral reef can produce as much as 30 tons of seafood yearly for the sustenance of the people, but it depends on how much the reef is preseved and kept healthy.

Meeting in Manila, government officials and wildlife experts from countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands seek ways to save the world’s richest marine region which encompasses parts of Sulu-Sulawesi, South China Sea, and the Pacific Ocean. Obviously, in terms of wildlife conservation, a lot has still to be done. (Photo Credits: melhins; courtneyplatt; mikebond) =0=

UPDATE: 10/24/08: The US government pledged a total of $39.45 million to save the world’s greatest coral reef (Coral Triangle) which borders six countries, including the Philippines. This was announced by US Ambassador Kristie Kenney putting the total pledges to $450 million from collective contributions from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, US Agency for International Development and the Australian Agency for International Development. =0=

Beijing Olympics & China’s Human Rights Record

August 8, 2008

A nation of 1.3 billion people welcomes the world as it hosts the Beijing Olympics which started on 08/08/08. (Photo Credit: AP) Beaming with national pride, China pulls out a rousing 3 ½ -hour program of pageantry and fireworks to usher in the onset of competitions. It’s an occasion to show its best, after its modern transformation since the communists came to power in 1949.

In regions ravaged by the earthquake in May which killed 70,000 people and rendered close to 5 million people homeless, the people in the countryside and city took time to revel on the glitter of the moment, congregating in villages to watch the spectacular event in TV. About 70 world leaders which include Russia’s Vladimir Putin, France’s Nicholas Sakorzy and Philippines’ Gloria M. Arroyo came to greet Chinese President Hu Jintao. More than 100,000 security personnel were deployed to assure the orderly conduct of the spectacle which was viewed by the largest audience ever: 2.3 billion people worldwide.

Costing about $70 billion, the sporting event has been hounded by political and environmental concerns in spite of government officials’ diplomatic maneuvers and efforts to curb air pollution. Beijing still has the smoggy haze that concerns athletes.

The city is moderately polluted (air pollution index of 94 vs. WHO’s recommended level of <52.) Participants raise environmental concerns and fret over the heat and humidity which may affect their performance in the games.

The world seems not ready to forget China’s poor human rights records. From various places worldwide protests have erupted against China’s domestic repressive policies. Critics and political activists condemn China’s supply of arms to the genocidal regime of Darfur. The Chinese government hasn’t opened a meaningful dialogue with the Dalai Lama to resolve Tibet’s autonomy and desire for self-rule. In a speech which irks Chinese officials, US Pres. George W. Bush said the people of China deserve to enjoy basic liberty, the natural right of very human being.

In spite of government measures to curb pollution, Beijing still has the smoggy haze that concerns athletes. The city is moderately polluted prompting participants to complain over the heat and humidity which may affect their performance in the games. The Olympic organizers are closely monitoring the air safety and weather to determine if competitions need to be rescheduled.

As Beijing Olympics play on, we can’t ignore the positive forces of peace, friendship, understanding and goodwill that propel the holding of the games. Yet, behind the sublime intentions of nations, there are political, social, economic, and environmental concerns which stick out as urgent challenges for the people of the world to tackle.=0=

Dark Knight’s Blockbuster Bonanza, Zimbabwe’s $100 Billion Dollar Note, & GMA’s Dismal Popularity Rating

July 21, 2008

$155.34 million
-Hollywood’s popular record-breaking block-buster entertainment “The Dark Knight” is Christopher Nolan’s dark sequel to “Batman Begins” which drew excited fans and profits in tinseltown on the first week of showing. Recently deceased actor Heath Ledger acts as the Joker. There are those who think the movie is too violent and may not be appropriate for kids below 12.

$100 billion note
-To cope with a hyperinflation of 2.2 million percent, Zimbabwe’s Central Bank issued this latest huge bank note in a series of high money denominations, to deal with cash and food shortages leaving 80% of its people below the poverty line.

(-) 38%
-Social Weather Station (SWS) revealed the dismal approval rating of Pres. Gloria M. Arroyo on July 18, 2008, making her the most unpopular Philippine president since 1986. It’s lower than her (-) 33% approval rating in May 2005, prompting Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, head of CBCP to advise the president to take her unpopularity “seriously.”

4,124
-The number of US military troops who died in the Iraq War since it started 5 years ago, according to a recent count by the Associated Press on July 20, 2008.

0
-No one has lost money in FDIC-insured savings of up to $100,000 in the last 75 years, said Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson who cautions anxious Americans of harder times ahead, but assures the soundness of the US banking system.

30 days
-The expected time to retrieve the estimated 200,000 liters of industrial fuel and 10 metric-ton toxic endosulfan trapped in the sunken Princess of the Stars (threatening to pollute the Sibuyan Sea.) The projected cost of retrieval is $7.5 million (P318 million.)

87 drums
-Number of missing drums of toxic toluene diisocyanate (apart from the hazardous 10 metric tons of endosulfan and ship fuel in the Princess of the Sea) that need retrieval from another ship, M/V Ocean Papa, also grounded by Typhoon Frank.

2,167
-Central Luzon’s number of dengue fever cases, a rise of 273% from last year’s number with two reported deaths as of July 21, 2008.

$1.42 billion
-Total remittance of OFW’s in May 2008, a 15.5% increase from last year’s. This is accompanied by the exodus of 533,945 Filipinos, a 39.5% rise in the first five months of 2008 who seek jobs abroad.

$145.59 million
-The amount of foreign investments withdrawn from the Philippines in June, 2008—a reversal to last year’s inflow investments totaling $871.41 million which entered the country. A total of $417 million from foreign investors left the country since Jan. 2008. =0=

Wow Words For Al Gore’s Climate Agenda

July 19, 2008

There is little argument against Al Gore’s call for a shift from fossil-fuel based energy sources to environmentally friendly fuel alternatives to preserve the planet. His ambitious target date for the next US president to accomplish this is 10 years. But those who know Gore and his gas-guzzling life-style know better. He isn’t immaculately in synch with his climate agenda making them suspect politics or hypocrisy to be partly behind his high-brow rhetoric.

As a famed leader of the environmental movement, the Nobel prize-winner Gore joins California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats, and Liberals to promote clean sources of energy by tapping on solar, wind, hydroelectric, and hydrogen power. Surely, this is good to the environmentalists’ and green planet-savers’ ears. However, for practical purposes, these energy sources aren’t well-developed to meet our present requirements. It will take sometime, most likely exceeding the timeline Gore has envisioned, before sanitized technologies will dominate our energy consumption.

Many experts believe the rational approach to the energy shortage is to do everything. We require all technologies and means: oil drilling, methane gas, coal, electro-magnetic, bio-fuels, and nuclear power (in addition to what the Democrats prefer) for us to be energy sufficient at this time. Others advocate to open USA’s Strategic Petroleum Reserves to ease up the price of gasoline.

Drilling oil in the vast continental USA, off-shore reefs, inland Utah-Wyoming-Colorado shales, and the Alaskan National Wilderness Reserve is basically what the majority of Americans want. They know these resources have to be tapped, sooner or later. They think it’s cost-saving and time-efficient to have them set up ahead, anytime we need them.

But the lawmakers, influenced by lobbyists and interest groups, have been indecisively slow. People complain why these authorities aren’t listening. There appears to be a big gap to bridge between them and what the government decision-makers plan to do.

Hampered by the fear of adding more damage to the environment, the Democrats like Gore who resisted oil exploration, are being blamed for having dilly-dallied since 10 years ago, against the proposal of Pres. George W. Bush and the Republicans. As the energy crisis comes full-blown to a level which hurts, we’re caught flat on our noses.

Many believe, had we started tapping America’s rich energy reserves earlier (as carefully as we can to avoid unduly adding to the destruction of the planet,) pipes could have been in place to gush oil needed to solve our present fuel problems. But excuses are commonplace in politics. The gamut of reasons why they can’t do the drilling now is as strong as our fear of global warming—as many as the bewildering explanations why oil prices continue to rise.

Overcoming political party squabbles and setting aside the environmental debacle, we must do everything to solve the present energy crisis. While we start cleaning up our planet of pollution and avert the deleterious effects C02 emissions in the environment, we can’t escape using oil for awhile. Without perfecting the technologies of other sources of energy, we can’t focus in tackling the issue of global warming right at the core.

We’ve been trying to tap energies from solar, wind, water, and nuclear to run our industries and light up our cities. When done in a large scale, this will surely rebalance the equation of energy supply and demand. Alternative sources of energy will lessen speculations in oil futures—one of main reasons which drive worldwide fuel prices sky-high.

We’ve made in-roads to replace our cars with the hybrids, the plug-ins, the bio-fuel driven, and the ethanol-powered. Yet it will take sometime before clean, efficient, and less costly hydrogen and fuel cells will be in wide use to free us from our dependence on gas. Al Gore’s audacious target is fine, but can we do it? When the private entrepreneurs and government doers ride the wagon, maybe we will.=0=

Rice shortage, chestnut mannikins, & the specter of want

April 6, 2008


by Totie Mesia

Rice shortage and famine had been worrisome issues, but they made me recall the old days when I was a kid growing up in the 1960s. Food then wasn’t much of a problem in Bikol. The back of our house in Bagumbayan Street, Naga City was a quaint oasis of fish, waterfowls, and birds—a small paradise near the fabled Quiborakland where coconut trees grew tall and rice blossomed in abundance.

Yes, it was a swampy locale not far from the old Ateneo de Naga University campus where rice and grass grew in profusion. The black snakehead (talusog) rested in the mud and their babies formed bubbly gold balls of wiggly fingerlings beneath lush green lilies in the murky marsh. The frogs grew fat and lived satisfied with a steady diet of cicadas and dragonflies.

When the monsoon rains came, the place became greener and livelier. It teemed with jumping tadpoles, miniature crabs, and emerald salamanders which were elating to watch in glass jars I placed on the window sill.

The chestnut-feathered mannikins (aka rignos, maya, munia) flocked on patches of tall cogon grass, thick shrubs and thorny bougainvilleas which flowered in the peak of summer. The birds were awesome builders of nests made of dried zakate leaves when the fields were ripe with fruiting grains. Guarding the rice fields where they raised their young, I was rapt watching the mannikins foraged on grains which were outstandingly bountiful.

The birds were naturally happy in spite of the stern scarecrow’s presence on the rice paddies. They busily plucked food from rice stalks before the onset of harvest. And they sometimes blackened the sky in their amazing group flight each time I chased them. I had the child’s warped fun of trapping a few of them which I kept in a bamboo cage.

The mannikins sounded like thunder in their flight. In huge numbers, they flocked together incessantly chirping in the breeze, reminding us of unity which bound their species through the eons. Ravenously, they fed just like hungry human beings. Whenever they left though, I waited for their return—even if the farmers’ noisy tin cans suspended on a scarecrow’s breast banged incessantly to shoo them away.

In my innocent mind, I thought the plentiful rice grains back then would never run out. I was convinced both men and birds were in no danger of ever starving or dying of hunger.

But of course I was damn wrong. It didn’t take long when hordes of people moved in to live and disrupt the balance of the marsh. The grassy swamp quickly dried up, the vegetation thinned out, and the entire place looked fallow for rice or wildlife to ever thrive.

It appeared nature met extreme “environmental stress” with the encroachment of people in the fields. The green dragonflies with large iridescent eyes vanished with the slimy catfish that I used to hook with my fishing stick. The chestnut mannikins, lesser in number, did pass by as often. The black waterfowls (tikling) which dashed and sang on the mud were gone. Only the dengue-bearing mosquitoes remained.

I lamented thinking why fertile fields could turn so barren so quickly. It could be a reason why rice, our staple food, had suddenly become scarce all over the country. As news climate changed perturbed us, the grains couldn’t be coaxed to fruit generously as before. And the greedy rice hoarders held on for those rounds of price increases which ripped our pockets.

Yet, the national statistics disclosed, among our students, farming had never been as popular a profession as nursing, hotel and restaurant administration, or criminology. Many had been conditioned to believe that if they couldn’t get white-collar jobs, it was the only time to “go home and plant camote,” giving a bad rap to the humble sweet potato that sustained our ancestors. It had been a crooked way of regarding agriculture, a noble profession.

What could all these speak about us in the midst of the specter of want? Taxes had risen and many had been out of work. I heard many planters lost heart with farming and they dreamed of changing careers. With ineffectual agrarian reform program (CARP,) there had been less land to till and agriculture had been expensive for poor farmers without government support.

The cost of food brazenly shot up and the poor folks instantly felt the drag of spending for their families. There had been scary rumors of famine in spite of the move to make rice affordable. Grumblings and spotty protests rocked the streets as many waited for what would be next.

I wondered what these meant for the birds and the men without grains for the coming seasons. With our government’s proclivity to import rice from abroad, I pondered if interventions would ever work when leaders often bickered on issues which augured badly for clear solutions.

Was it wise to rely on rice imports from Vietnam without serious effort to make us rice-sufficient? What could 43 billion pesos do to our flagging agriculture, an industry which we shamefully neglected for a long time? Was unbridled export of brawn and brains the way towards national security and survival? Could we have done too little, too late because greed and corruption robbed us of what was essential for the nation?

I wished the people of the country would live through this uncertainty with sufficient courage. I always believed we still got the will and the energy to rise above our deepest concerns and worst fears.