by Rolando A. Inciong                  
Nature’s cancer

    The modern world is facing its greatest crisis: the COVID 19 pandemic. If we survive this greatest threat to human survival, we will still be facing another crisis, which is actually ongoing but remains unnoticed; a crisis that does not attract media and public attention compared to COVID 19. This crisis is called biodiversity loss.

    Biodiversity encompasses all life on Earth, from the smallest insect to the biggest whale. Biodiversity is the “web of life” that includes ecosystems, the species living in them, and the genetic variety of those species produced by nature or shaped by men.

    The ASEAN region, including the Philippines, is widely recognized as a treasure trove of biodiversity. The region occupies only three percent of the Earth’s total surface but its mountains, forests, rivers and oceans are home to over 20 percent of all known plant, animal and marine species.

    According to the World Conservation Union, the Philippines alone has 9,536 with some 6,000 species as endemic, meaning they can only be found in this part of the world. About 70 percent of the Philippines’ nearly 21,000 recorded insect species are found only in this country. About one-third of the 915 butterflies found here are endemic, and over 110 of the more than 130 species of tiger beetle are found nowhere else.

    The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said more than 500 of the world’s 700 coral species are found under the waters of the Philippines, which is a part of the Coral Triangle – a region in the Pacific Ocean. 

    There are at least 50 known seahorse species in the world. They inhabit temperate and tropical waters but most of them are concentrated in the warm coastal waters of the Philippines. 

    The world’s smallest commercial fish: Sinarapan (Mistichthys luzonensis) is found only in Lakes Bato and Buhi in Camarines Sur province.

    The DENR reported that Donsol, a fishing town in Sorsogon province, serves as a sanctuary to a group of 40 whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), which are considered the largest fish in the world.  Locally known as “butanding”, whale sharks visit the waters of Donsol from November to May.  They travel across the oceans but nowhere else have they been sighted in a larger group than in the waters of Sorsogon.  

    These are some of the Philippines’ treasure trove of biodiversity, making our country “nature’s superpower”.

    However, the natural world is not the just the collection of magnificent and wonderful species and ecosystems. We depend on the vast biodiversity to supply our daily needs: food, air, water, medicine, shelter, and a host of services. Within the ASEAN region alone, these products and services from nature are estimated to be worth over 200 billion US dollars annually.

    But this well spring of life is highly threatened. According to the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, in Southeast Asia, over 1,000 out of 64,800 known species of plants, mammals and marine life forms are endangered, including the Philippine Eagle, the Visayan Wrinkled Hornbill, the Philippine Tarsier, and the Tamaraw, among others. The entire Philippines is endangered as it has been classified by Conservation International as a biodiversity hotspot.

    The world, including the Philippines, is losing its biodiversity at unprecedented rates. We are facing a crisis which I call nature’s cancer.