Anarchist Mangroves

Image

the fiddler crab concurs
that the mangrove is an anarchist,
perfect in its defiance
from that liminal place
between the land and the sea:
trunks bent close to the ground,
roots interlocked like arms in protest
in this creeping war against the tides.
when the sea appears to be winning,
a million middle fingers
shoots through mud,
growing leaves,
extending borders,
giving more life in time.

 

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Information Sharing on Primates

We started a Facebook sharing page, Resource Center for Philippine Primates, to gather information on primate conservation, ecology, and biology. The links posted will strive to share more about the primate species in the Philippines, long-tailed macaques and Philippine tarsiers, but will also include any interesting trivia that we can gather from the internet and academic journals. If you wish to know more about primates, please click below and like the page:

Resource Center for Philippine Primates

Thanks a lot for joining!

30-minute limit proposed for whale shark watching

News update regarding whale shark watching in Oslob from Cebu Daily News:

Cebu Daily News

A 1 p.m. curfew and a 30-minute time limit on whale shark watching in Oslob town, Cebu, are among several guidelines proposed by a technical working group (TWG) led by the Provincial Capitol.

The time limit will prevent stressing the marine animals, who have been getting intense public attention from tourists and local visitors since August last year.

The group headed by Provincial Board (PB) member Peter John Calderon said they will meet before month’s end to finalize the draft guidelines.

The TWG is composed of Oslob Mayor Ronald Guaren, PB member Wilfredo Caminero, the Whale Shark Watchers Organization, Provincial Veterinarian Dr. Rose Marie Vincoy and Provincial Legal Officer lawyer Marino Martinquilla.

Under an Oslob municipal ordinance, only an accredited group will be allowed to ferry tourists to the site where the whale sharks gather.

A designated whale shark watching area was also in place with buoys within the municipal…

View original post 173 more words

Whale Shark Reply

The previous blog has apparently ruffled some feathers. A blog of course is not a scholarly article and need not be peppered with citations. It is an opinion piece, a mere two cents in the ongoing conversation about the incident in Oslob.

In the Facebook page of the Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, the admin wrote in reaction to the concluding paragraph of the previous blog:

We do not agree with this anthropocentric point of view, ecosystems and its components have existed for millions of years. Modern man only 200,000 years. The natural world cannot not (sic) evolve instantly and will not be able to adapt to what we are doing/have done to the planet in the past 100 years. As what has been said – we need nature more than she needs us. We need to be part of the solution to address the threats, not to be part of the problem.

The FB page admin clearly misunderstood the blog article’s point. What the blog stressed is the inseparability of our practices from what is currently happening to the natural environment. Our influence on every ecological niche is pervasive that we have become a force in the adaptation of other species.

As a consequence, we have been seeing species, both flora and fauna, devising new strategies to contend with the anthropogenic influences on their habitat. For example, tarsiers stalk freshly turned cornfields to forage on crickets and other insects exposed in the process of cultivation. There are a few other iconic examples: macaques raiding agricultural farms, polar bears and penguins losing their habitats because of the melting of glaciers, among others. Needless to say, even if the whale sharks are left alone in the middle of nowhere or dive deep into the depths of the ocean, they would still bear the mark of humanity’s impact on the planet (e.g., rising sea temperatures due to human-related factors,  mercury contamination, climate change, water pollution, etc.).

What is central for any substantial change to happen is to involve people by creating conservation programs that increase the stake of communities towards the species in question. Without creating that connection, communities could spell doom to any conservation program. The previous blog article thus explored the possibility of a community-driven and conservation practices-based feeding strategy for the whale sharks because of its potential for boosting reproductive success and increasing community participation. In concert with marine habitat enhancement activities, supplemental feeding could be redirected in such a way that the feeding will be beneficial (or has minimal impact) to the animals. By actively managing tourism (and pulling it closer to conservation), the activity has to be sensitive to the dangers of habituation and to the feeding ecology and social behavior of the whale sharks.

Feeding Whale Sharks: Much Ado About Butanding

PhotobucketCebu Daily News recently reported two injured whale sharks in the seas off a coastal barangay of Oslob, Cebu. One whale shark had a spear driven to its body and another got struck in the head by a motorboat’s propeller. The incident had drawn widespread condemnation from all sectors of Cebuano society. A local officer of the World Wildlife Fund laid the blame on the “domestication” of the whale sharks or butanding as the reason for the incident and thus called for the stopping of whale shark-feeding activities due to its effect on the species’ “natural hunting and feeding patterns.”

The risk that habituation presents is troubling. Once animals are habituated, they drop their guard and are more vulnerable to a wide range of human activities. According to Mark Orams (2002:285):

An animal has few cues about whether a human approaching it has good or bad intentions and, unfortunately, not all humans are wildlife lovers.

…(A)nimals that become accustomed to receiving food from people tend to frequent areas where there is a lot of human activity. These areas tend to present greater risks to animals that are not adapted to avoid such things as cars, boats and aeroplanes.

It is in a wild animal’s best interest therefore, for them to remain wary of people. Of course, when they are being regularly provisioned with food they lose this wariness, they become habituated to human contact and, as a result, they are at greater risk of injury from someone who wished to do them harm.

Some experts posit that dependence on human-sourced food reduces the chances of a species to survive in the wild. Species that are heavily dependent lose the skills needed in the search and pursuit of prey and may die if supplemental feeding is stopped. Although the literature on whale sharks is silent on this topic, I think that the volume of a whale shark’s food requirement is too high to be completely dependent on hand-feeding. For the whale sharks, people are alternative food sources–one among many in a whale shark’s array of foraging strategies. Similar to the fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and the dolphins frequenting Australian tourist spots,  the whale sharks might also have retained their foraging skills despite getting human-sourced food from tourists.

PhotobucketSo, should the municipality of Oslob continue with the practice of whale-shark feeding? The typical knee-jerk reaction is to implement a total ban and just let the animals be “wild and free.” Aside from the obvious challenges of enforcement, this would also set back the gains of many NGOs that encourage fishers to shift from exploitative fishing to sustainable wildlife tourism. Historically, southern Cebu was the seat of commercial fishing in the Visayas, renowned in the past for the destructive muroami fishing technique. It is therefore imperative that communities and fishers in Oslob reexamine their relationship with the sea and allow them to explore alternative connections with the marine fauna and flora.

The municipality of Oslob should also learn from the practices of institutions involved in endangered species conservation, where supplemental feeding is a cornerstone activity in population recovery strategies. If done properly, food provisioning could help increase a species’ reproductive success (i.e., although no specific studies have been conducted on supplemental feeding and its impact on whale shark population, i think it’s worth a try). The Philippine Tarsier Foundation, for example, conduct habitat enhancement activities to increase tarsier prey population. In Africa, “vulture restaurants” have been opened up in various sites to extend the chances of population recovery for critically-endangered birds (see TIME article). Perhaps, the propensity of tourists and tour guides to feed whale sharks can be redirected to boost breeding and reproduction albeit in a controlled and carefully-managed setting (i.e. sensitive to the dangers that habituation may pose to the animals).

People are part of the natural environment. We shape and influence the environment around us and thereby present challenges to other species. Every habitat, migration route, ecological niche bear a mark of humanity’s impact (e.g., from climate change to predatory fishing). We are the ‘facts of life’ that other species learn to negotiate and adapt. The problem with a total ban (i.e., “of leaving animals alone”) is the implicit assumption that we can separate ourselves from the lives of other species. We are part of every species’ reality and the primary driving force in their survival or extinction.

Also posted also in Anthropology Corner.

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Orams, Mark B.  Feeding wildlife as a tourism attraction: a review of issues and impacts in Tourism Management 23 (2002) 281-293.

The Real cost of the Balili Property

Today’s post will feature a guest blog by Vince Cinches, anti-coal campaigner and executive director of the Central Visayas Fisherfolk Development Center, Inc. (FiDeC). Vince outlines the environmental and human costs of the plan of the Cebu provincial government for a coal ash disposal facility in a timberland area (Balili property).
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THE ECOSYSTEM OF DAMAGES

by
Vince Cinches
Executive Director
Central Visayas Fisherfolk Development Center Inc.

The reason why we in FIDEC, an institution created by and for the fisherfolks in Central Visayas, is opposed to the use of the Balili Property as a disposal facility for coal combustion waste is because coal ashes will poison and degrade the integrity of not just of the immediate marine ecosystem but the waters surrounding our island. This will therefore affect fish habitats, and fish population, on which most of the residents in the area are dependent for food and livelihood.

This negative environmental impact will not just limit itself to Naga, since fish catch in the municipality also supplies the needs of other towns. According to BFAR, 51% of our daily animal protein requirements come from fish, and that fishing is next to farming when it comes to the number of people being directly and indirectly employed.

Additionally, scientific data shows that coal combustion wastes or coal ashes, have high concentrations of 17 heavy metals including arsenic, selenium, mercury, cadmium, chromium, lead, antimony, thallium, molybdenum, vanadium, nickel, and cobalt as well as boron, sulfates, chlorides and other salts.

Last December 2009, together with our country’s leading toxicologist, we sent to the Philippine Institute for Pure and Applied Chemistry (PIPAC) coal ash samples from the areas where it was dumped indiscriminately, which is beside water sources, residential areas, rivers, farm areas, schools, and even beside health facilities. The results revealed the presence of four heavy metals that include lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury. These heavy metals are known carcinogens, causing permanent damage to the central nervous system, lung cancer, and mental retardation among others.

Compared to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, exposure to coal combustion wastes is more dangerous a hundred times over.

As a logical consequence, the operation of coal-fired power plant in the area will not just impact our climate and health, it will also dump toxic wastes that will compromise the integrity and security of food resources. Among the animal species, fishes are the inhabitants that cannot escape from the detrimental effects of these pollutants (Olaifa et al., 2004; Clarkson, 1998; Dickman and Leung, 1998).

Last 2005, together with marine scientists and scuba divers, we conducted a Habitat Assessment with the objective of “inspecting marine flora or fauna within Naga waters fronting the plant and use the assessment to provide baseline information of the underlying coastal situation for other proposed power plants providing that they have the same preconditions as the present Naga power.”

The area surveyed measured at an estimate of 400m parallel to the shore and at about 200m across. Point transect was done in two sections, one at 30 feet (10m) and one at 20 feet (7m) where a 50m transect line was laid and read at every 0.25m. Temperature was also monitored from the surface level and at every 10m.

According to that data output, “the result obtained was homogenous all throughout the surveyed area. Sediment consisted entirely of silt that measured at an average of 10cm in depth. Marine flora is monospecific to the seagrass Halophila sp. Marine fauna was also limited to mud dwelling or burrowing invertebrates such as crustaceans and gobies. A lone Holothurian (sea cucumber) was also recorded at a depth of 20ft.” Visibility as observed was at 2ft or approximately an arms length at a depth of 10ft presumably due to heavy siltation. In terms of physico-chemical assessment, temperature did not vary as much.

Low marine diversity in the area may have been caused by excessive siltation as expressed by the locals. It is but natural however, that extreme thermal conditions cause more damage if not total destruction to the marine ecosystem. This is true to all areas affected by thermal pollution such that at normal conditions, water temperature only varies between 80 degrees to 87 degrees F. This is very alarming since the change in degree of temperature that occurred during the El Nino does not even compare to the water temperature discharged from the Naga power plant. During these episodes, any normal observer can literally see “smoke on the water” (2005 Habitat Assessment, September 4, 2005, Cebu Alliance of Renewable Energy (C.A.R.E.) Additionally, fish are widely used to evaluate the health of aquatic ecosystems because pollutants build up in the food chain and are responsible for adverse effects and death in the aquatic systems (Farkas et al., 2002; Yousuf and El-Shahawi, 1999). The studies carried out on various fishes have shown that heavy metals may alter thephysiological activities and biochemical parameters both in tissues and in blood (Basa and Rani, 2003; Canli, 1995; Tort and Torres, 1988).

If the Balili Property will be utilized as a dump site for coal combustion wastes, toxics and heavy metals from this property will not only jeopardize the mangroves but will also bio-accumulate in marine organisms such as fish, crustaceans, sea cucumbers, among others and will go up higher in the food chain, until it reaches us. . The toxic effects of heavy metals have been reviewed, including bioaccumulation (Waqar 2006; Adami et al., 2002; Rasmussen and Anderson, 2000; Rani, 2000; Aucoin et al., 1999).

Now it seems that mercury and other poisonous elements will be dumped directly into our waters, courtesy of the provincial government’s ridiculous intention to turn the Balili property into a coal-combustion waste facility. As we know, heavy metal contamination may have devastating effects on the ecological balance of the recipient environment and a diversity of aquatic organisms (Farombi, et al., 2007; Vosyliene and Jankaite, 2006; Ashraj, 2005).

The natural aquatic systems may extensively be contaminated with heavy metals released form domestic, industrial andother man-made activities (Velez and Montoro, 1998; Conacher, et al., 1993).

The fate of the Balili property is not just up to the court. It is also up to the people who at the end will suffer the effects of climate change such rising sea level and extreme weathers, as well as food insecurity, and unsustainable future, ridden with diseases, sickness, and death.

Quo vadis?

On El Yunque

El Yunque towers at the northeastern edge of Puerto Rico. The summit rises at 3,494 feet and gradually reclines to the sandy coasts that embrace the whole island. From afar, the Luquillo mountain range, of which El Yunque is a part of, is a hazy blue, a crest of a Caribbean terrestrial wave shaped by time. Patches of green fill the ridges that scar the sides of the mountain. When the rain comes, white rivulets form on these small valleys, nourishing an oasis of endemic plants that include Crescentia cujete or the calabash plant.

Sands from the Sahara sometimes blanket the cordilleras. These windblown desert dusts from Africa roll toward the Atlantic covering most of the island in a fog of whiteness. When this happens, everything is opaque: even the sun loses its luster, a gigantic egg hanging in the skies, beautiful like opal, resting above the silhouette of El Yunque.

Kathryn Robinson, author of where dwarfs reign: a tropical rainforest in Puerto Rico, explains that the Luquillo range is a remnant of an ancient supervolcano, Hato Puerco. This volcano was “one of the region’s largest and most active volcanic centers during the Cretaceous period.” Paraphrasing a pioneering geologist, Robinson explains:

The early volcanic activity, followed by a period of colossal bending, produced the mountains. Their stubborn resistance to erosion, “giving silent testimony to the ancient majesty of the ranges from which they had been carved,” enabled them to endure. To Myerhoff, Luquillo is a true monadnock, an isolated mountain remaining from ancient topography that rises above the more level, eroded land around it.

What once was smoldering lava has been transformed into a verdant spot in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Eons of weathering and the corresponding dispersal of soil macronutrients have left El Yunque very fertile. This area is home to 150 native fern species, 240 tree species, an assortment of endemic animals, including the critically-endangered Puerto Rican parrot. The rich biodiversity of the area prompted locals to call this range as “el pulmon de Puerto Rico” or the lung of Puerto Rico. The Tainos, pre-Columban inhabitants of the island, also believed that El Yunque is the home of the god, Yakiyuyu.

El Yunque’s biodiversity however is under threat. Using endemic frogs as biodiversity indicators, researchers have noticed a steady decline of Puerto Rican frogs in the area. In 1993, S. Blair Hedges (1993) said that two of the native Eleutherodactylus have not been seen in recent years. S. Blair remarked:

In the case of E. karlschmidti, known localities where the species occurred abundantly in the 1960s and 1970s have been searched repeatedly during the last decade by myself and other herpetologists and no evidence of this species has been found. The disappearance of E. karlschmidti has no obvious explanation. Some of the localities are in protected and unaltered forest (Caribbean National Forest) on El Yunque. However, rats and mongooses, which were introduced, are abundant in Puerto Rico and occur in undisturbed forest. Black Rats (Rattus rattus) especially are a problem in Caribbean National Forest where they are very common, even in the dwarf forest on El Yunque Peak. It is possible that these arboreal nocturnal omnivores prey on Eleutherodactylus eggs or the frogs themselves. The mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus), although primarily diurnal, is known to prey on frogs (Walker, 1975; Nellis and Everard, 1983) and this particular species of frog would be especially vulnerable because it characteristically sits on exposed rocks in and around streams.

A follow-up study by Burrows et al (2003) supported the earlier research. They recorded that three Eleutherodactylus frog species are already presumed extinct and eight populations of six different species of these endemic frogs are significantly declining at elevations above 400 m. While Burrows et al are not discounting the impact of invasive species on frog populations, they maintain that climate change and the spread of a chytrid fungi may have been responsible for the steady decline. They said that “possible synergistic interaction between drought and the pathological effect of the chytrid fungus on amphibian populations” could explain the population decreases.

Visits to nature parks always elicit a certain ambivalence in me: that the urge to discover might also be intrusive. The short treks on muddy paths to reach a peak or visit a waterfall are voyages of discovery and understanding. This is our way of seeking connections to the primal and the natural in these times when modernity drives a wedge between our lifestyle and the natural world. But do we in the process change the very environment that we wish to visit, know, and conserve? Is mere human presence enough to have a ramifying impact on other species’ habitats?

There is indeed a need to critically reflect our relationship with the natural world. After all, inscribed in the oral traditions of many cultures indicate that mountains are ancient sources of wisdom. In the Philippines for example, healers (tambalan) go for long treks and settle in caves in search of spirit guides. They would stay long and converse with the spirits and sometimes come out with greying beards and hair. Now endowed with the wisdom of the forest, they would embark in a journey of healing and divination, moving from one barrio to the next to impart the knowledges they learned. For these healers, the forests are not just a collection of plants and animals but are sites of wisdom and contemplation.

Perhaps this renewed sense of awe (coupled with an intimate ecological understanding) at mountains and its environs will be helpful in preserving and conserving El Yunque’s biodiversity.

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EL Yunque pictures