SEVEN years ago, the world Red List of Threatened Species had in its Philippines roster 418 species of plants and animals, entire populations of which are vulnerable and, when extinct, irreplaceable; at present, the number stands at 475. Threats to the survival of the country’s flora and fauna – it is apparent – are increasing.

Philippine Cockatoo: critically endangered. Photo by Palawan Council for Sustainable DevelopmentConservationists are now calling for the increased protection of what they have identified as “Key Biodiversity Areas” (KBAs) across the archipelago, all of whom are home to threatened species and whose survival will spell the difference in the earth’s biological diversity. The Philippines, after all – with its more than 20,000 endemic species of plants and animals – is one of the world’s 17 “mega-diversity” countries that collectively claim two-thirds of the earth’s biodiversity within their boundaries. At the same time, the Philippines is one of 34 global hotspots where precisely such biodiversity is highly threatened.

The KBAs, according to Conservation International-Philippines which is leading the campaign, number 128 and will “provide the building blocks for landscape-level conservation planning.” “The conservation sites that have previously been identified are mostly large areas,” CI’s Grace Ambal says. “The KBA approach takes into consideration the question of whether or not the conservation areas are indeed manageable.”

Earlier, the Haribon Foundation and Birdlife International in 2002 listed 117 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the Philippines, identifying habitats such as lowland and montane forest, wetland IBAs and seabird colonies on oceanic islets. The same year, Conservation International and the environment department’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau named 206 Conservation Priority Areas (CPAs).

Ambal says this new KBA list is “a refinement.” View a map and a list of the KBAs.

CI-Philippines used data from the IUCN Red List, the National Red List of the environment department contained in Administrative Order passed in 2004, and Haribon’s IBAs. The group then “overlayed” these data from other environmental, socioeconomic and political data (such as vegetation classification and land tenure), and came up with its list of KBAs.

The KBAs cover a total of 6,008,813 hectares or around 20% of the total land area of the country. The sites are home to some 209 globally threatened, and 419 endemic species of freshwater fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, as well as for 62 species of congregatory birds.

Of these 128 areas, the group says, the highest priorities are those that belong to the global Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE.) The AZE is a consortium of over 50 conservation organizations worldwide, devoted to conserving sites that are the last remaining strongholds for one or more Critically Endangered or Endangered species. These priority areas are:

  • Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park (Isabela)
  • Mt. Isarog (Camarines Sur)
  • Siburan (Mindoro Occidental)
  • Mt. Mantalingahan (Palawan)
  • South and North Gigante island (Iloilo)
  • Mt. Canlaon Natural Park (Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental)
  • Cuernos de Negros (Negros Oriental)
  • Mt. Kambinlio and Mt. Redondo (Surigao del Norte)
  • Mt. Malindang Natural Park (Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Misamis Occidental) Tawi-Tawi island (Tawi-Tawi)

Less than half, or only 45, of the 128 KBAs at present overlap with protected areas officially established by government through the National Integrated Protected Areas System. Another 33 areas overlap with sites that are in the process of being officially declared as protected. A big number, 50, are in areas that have not as yet been even considered for declaration.

Conservation International says the threats to the ecosystems and species of these areas include wildlife hunting; logging; human encroachment; mining operations; and land conversion. In some areas, unregulated tourism also poses menace.

CI considers as a right step Executive Order No. 578, issued by the president in November last year and instituting as state policy the “protection, conservation, and sustainable use of the country’s biological diversity.”

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