Category Archives: Environmental Issues

Contemporary issues about the environment.

Water Wars in the Philippines

One of the most controversial issue our world faces today is the problem of utilization of water resources. It is an evident fact that water is one of the resources vital to human existence and has resulted to water wars. Countries along the Nile River particularly Egypt fight for control over the Nile River where 90 million of its people live . Further, water is susceptible to degradation and depletion.

Although almost two-thirds of the world’s surface is made up of water, only a small portion of this constitutes sources of potable water. At the onset of rapid urbanization and development, the proper management and distribution of water for varied uses becomes an immediate center of attention. This concern has caused different entities and groups to examine the present condition and to prescribe ways for management of some of the biggest water systems in the Philippines.

Small-scale water wars

People derive different uses from water sources. These uses include water for domestic use, irrigation, hydroelectric power generation and flood control systems.

Communities in the Philippines obtained their water supply from different sources such as rainfall, surface water resources, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and underground resources (Greenpeace, 2007). Some of the major water basins and water systems in the country include the Angat Reservoir, Laguna Lake, and Batangas City groundwater system.

However, events in the past and our condition provides a different image of water resource use in the country. Various governmental agencies currently share the magnitude of the work involved in gathering information and monitoring the water supply services in the country. These organizations include the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA, formerly NSO) and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), (NEDA, 2010).

An article written by Guillermo Tabios and Cristina David in 2002 specified the different issues and conflicts involved in the sustainable use of water resource in the some of the Philippines’ important water systems. In the 1970s, the country experienced the need to meet the increasing water demands of the consumers. The situation led to serious problems for planners and decision makers.

Provisions of the Republic Act 9275, otherwise known as the “Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004”, specified that trade-offs in water use may be imposed. However, the said provision is not efficiently carried in the entire country. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is the lead agency that implements RA 9275. Previous reports and cases supporting the claim of weak implementation by the government were also evident (as stated in the case between Bulacan Farmers and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System. Due to conflict of interests, changing the political landscape and weak justice system, resolution of cases that involves water use trade-offs are still being decided (as stated in the case between Bulacan farmers and MWSS).

water wars
A 21st-century water-use conflict among the states of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida in the US.

Another aspect that needs to be considered in this issue of water use is the physical system and operation of water systems. Planners and decision makers must be well-equipped with the required knowledge to relate the functions of the respective water systems relevant to its effects on the nearby ecosystems, surrounding communities, and different stakeholders. This point was significantly noted in the instance of the construction of Mangahan Floodway in Metro Manila. The Floodway was constructed to safeguard Metro Manila from floods. The floodway, however, caused flooding in the surrounding communities in the Taguig and Taytay area. This event goes to show that careful planning, especially those involving the construction of structures, should be carefully planned since these might also affect other neighboring areas.

Saltwater intrusion is also one issue that needs to be addressed. We all know that potable water for domestic use needs to be free of substances that might increase its salinity. Due to excessive pumping, groundwater aquifers and systems become prone to saltwater intrusion. This situation results when freshwater pressure can no longer repel that of saltwater, leading to intrusion. This occurrence increases the salinity level of water beyond the treatable condition. When this happens, costly processes must be carried out to treat water for domestic use. Nevertheless, not all government agencies and private companies in the country can afford to employ such process.

Another issue is the worsening effect of pollution on our water supply. Much of our water resources are being exposed to chemical and toxic substances that may lead to worse environmental and health problems. Water pollution due to poor sanitation and untreated wastewater contributes significantly to the degrading quality of our existing water supply. Results showed that polluted water may cause several health problems such as gastroenteritis, diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, dysentery, hepatitis, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (PEM, 2003).

Possible recommendations to prevent water wars

Ultimately, a greater portion of responsibility lies with the agencies of the government that manage the utilization of water resources. To prevent water wars, responsible government agencies should work together. Though each organization has different stakeholders that they need to cater, it is still best that they harmonize their respective schemes and equitably share our existing water resources.

Efficient monitoring of water quality and supply should also be carried out regularly. The conduct of researches and studies is highly recommended. With the results of these studies, the government, including the planners and decision makers, will be provided with the proper basis that may be used to review our existing laws about water resources use.

All of us should realize that water is a finite and scarce resource. Such can only be attained if we work hand-in-hand to preserve these resources and prevent water wars.

References:

(1) David, C and Tabios, G. (2002). Competing Uses of Water: The Cases of Angat Reservoir, Laguna Lake and Groundwater systems of Batangas City and Cebu City. Philippine Institute for Development Studies. 20, (6).

(2) Philippines, National Economic and Development Authority. (2010). Philippine Water Supply Sector Roadmap, 2nd Edition. Pasig City, Philippines.

(3) Greenpeace-Southeast Asia. (2007). State of Water in the Philippines. Quezon City, Philippines.

Cite this article as: Jeneferlyn Yap (November 8, 2016). Water Wars in the Philippines. In SimplyEducate.Me. Retrieved from http://simplyeducate.me/2016/11/08/water-wars/

Electromagnetic Radiation Effect on Sleep

Does electromagnetic radiation emitted from modern digital devices affect sleep? This article explores and describes electromagnetic radiation effect on sleep based on scientific evidence. Read on to find out.

In an earlier post, I described the effect of blue light emitted from laptop or tv screens to sleeping patterns. But knowing this and taking action to prevent exposure to blue light apparently is not enough. I still had difficulty sleeping despite reducing my exposure to blue light. Blue light reduces melatonin levels thus disturb sleep.

I thought emissions from the WiFi adapter in my laptop might have something to do with my insomnia. So I hooked the laptop and the router together using a 10-meter RJ-45 cable run through the ceiling. I then switched off the built-in WiFi adapter on my laptop to a wired internet connection. Apparently, I slept soundly because of this change.

My experience could be considered an anecdotal evidence that the emission of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) can affect sleep. I thought my observation can lend support from the scientific literature. Hence, as is my usual routine, I browsed Google Scholar for relevant research on electromagnetic radiation effect on sleep.

Is there a relationship between EMR and sleep? What does research say about the electromagnetic radiation effect on sleeping patterns? Are they related at all?

Electromagnetic Radiation Effect on Sleep

The following five papers that describe the electromagnetic radiation effect on sleep can be convincing enough.

1. Chronic (or long-term) electromagnetic field exposure causes abnormal tissue death in the brain. It also causes lung damage, paralysis, muscle tremors, and bone pain (Worthington 2007).

2. Residents exposed to electromagnetic radiation from telecommunications towers suffer insomnia. In addition, they noted other non-specific health symptoms. These symptoms include headache, giddiness, loss of memory, diarrhea, mental slowness, reduced reaction time and mood swing (Suleiman 2014).

3. Radiation from cell phone base station affects the adrenal glands. The glands stimulate the production of adrenalin and cortisol. Excess adrenaline causes insomnia (Goldsworthy 2012).

4. Electromagnetic radiation from network routers can disturb sleep (Stein 2015).

5. Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF EMF) before sleep alters brain activity thus affect sleep (Regel 2007).

These findings demonstrate dose-response relationship. This means that small doses of EMR may not cause health problems. But larger doses can produce health symptoms upon reaching a certain threshold level. The present youth are particularly vulnerable, as their life revolves around the use of these gadgets either for serious school work or at play.

electromagnetic radiation effect
Radiation dose chart

Steps to Avoid Electromagnetic Radiation Exposure

One of the papers recommended that governments should impose new regulations on EMR-emitting communications infrastructure. Locating cell phone stations away from densely populated regions can reduce health risk. Chronic or long-term exposure to EMR-emitting gadgets such as cellphones, tablets, laptops, among others in the information age should be avoided.

To reduce electromagnetic radiation effects on your health, take the following steps:

1. Avoid using your electronic gadgets close to your body. Use an earphone when calling someone.

2. Connect to the internet using a cable as much as possible. If you can do so, switch off your WiFi adapter. The adapter emits more radiation the distance increases from the router. Weak router signals mean more electromagnetic radiation emitted by your gadget’s receiver.

3. Avoid going to places where people converge and use their cell phones such as malls and buses.

4. Do not sleep with your cell phone on and next to you.

5. Do not put your cellphone in your pocket. EMR has been known to cause infertility problems.

6. Avoid living near cellphone base stations. If living near one, block your house from incoming radiation with reflective aluminum insulation and painted walls.

7. Inform others about the health effects of electromagnetic radiation. Encourage them to take action so that emission of EMR in your workplace or community will be reduced.

The worry of the future generation is not about visible air pollution as environmental technology gradually keeps it at bay. Invisible radiation, due to our modern communications systems, is a threat that now shows its symptoms.

What you can’t see can harm you.

References

Goldsworthy, A. (2012). Cell phone radiation and harmful effects: Just how much more proof do you need?.

Regel, S. J., Tinguely, G., Schuderer, J., Adam, M., Kuster, N., Landolt, H. P., & Achermann, P. (2007). Pulsed radio‐frequency electromagnetic fields: dose‐dependent effects on sleep, the sleep EEG and cognitive performance. Journal of sleep research, 16(3), 253-258.

Stein, Y., Hänninen, O., Huttunen, P., Ahonen, M., & Ekman, R. (2015). Electromagnetic Radiation and Health: Human Indicators. In Environmental Indicators (pp. 1025-1046). Springer Netherlands.

Suleiman, A., Gee, T. T., Krishnapillai, A. D., Khalil, K. M., Hamid, M. W. A., & Mustapa, M. (2014). Electromagnetic radiation health effects in exposed and non-exposed residents in Penang. Journal of Geoscience and Environment Protection, 2(02), 77.

Worthington, A. (2007). The radiation poisoning of America. GlobalResearch. ca, October, 9.

Cite this article as: Regoniel, Patrick A. (May 14, 2016). Electromagnetic Radiation Effect on Sleep. In SimplyEducate.Me. Retrieved from http://simplyeducate.me/2016/05/14/electromagnetic-radiation-effect-sleep/

The Economic Loss of Rice Farms Due to Sea Level Rise and Farmer Adaptations

How are research topics arrived at? One of the ways on how to identify a phenomenon worthy of research investigation is to go out on field and ask questions.

This article discusses how research topics in environmental science can be generated through interaction with community members as clients of the research outputs. Specifically, it examined the issue of sea level rise as a pressing issue threatening the rice production capacity of a community living next to Malampaya Sound, a marine biodiversity rich body of water located northeast of Palawan Island. It was once dubbed the ‘fish bowl’ of the Philippines.

The trip yesterday to Abongan, a farming community in the municipality of Taytay located 167 kilometers northeast of Puerto Princesa, Palawan (Figure 1), was a fruitful one. I discovered an environmental issue that could be a good research topic to explore. The rice farmers in that community experience the negative effects of sea level rise – a manifestation of climate change. This issue arose as our research team conducted a focus group discussion with agriculture stakeholders.

sea level rise
A map showing the location of sea level rise affected farmlands in Abongan (Map source: Wikimapia.org).

Salt water inundated and changed a portion of the farmlands into mangrove stands. The phenomenon started way back in 1994, according to the barangay chairman of Abongan.

Reminded of the environmental economics perspective on evaluating environmental issues, a question popped in my mind: “How much in terms of money is the value lost by farmers each year because of the advancing sea waters?”

The Economic Loss of Rice Farms Due to Sea Level Rise

To objectively examine the issue discussed earlier, let us enumerate and assume the value of the different variables at play in this phenomenon:

  1. Area of farmland affected by sea level rise: 200 hectares
  2. Number of cavans of unhusked rice grains (palay) produced per hectare: 100
  3. Percentage of rice (bigas) produced in a cavan of palay: 25% or 1/4
  4. Price per kilogram of rice: PhP42 or $0.92
  5. Kilograms of rice per cavan: 50
  6. Number of croppings per year: 2
  7. Percentage of return from farm investment: 50%

The net loss of income on annual basis, therefore, can be computed by converting the net income from rice produced per hectare to the number of hectares affected. This is obtained by multiplying the number of kilos of rice produced per hectare to current price. This is equal to 25 cavans or 1,250 kilograms times PhP42 ($0.92); that gives a total of PhP52,500 ($1,150) per hectare.

If 200 hectares are affected by sea level rise each year, the total value of rice yield per hectare will be PhP10,500,000 ($48,300) per cropping season. Since there are two cropping seasons per year, total annual loss in income will be double this amount.

The annual loss in income of farms in Abongan, therefore, will be PhP21,000,000 or $96,600. Since the percentage of return from investment is roughly 50%, the annual loss in net income is half this final value which is the same value obtained for one cropping season, i.e., PhP10,500,000 ($48,300).

The value given above assumes that the area of affected farmland is the same. But farmers observed that saltwater goes further inland each year. This causes anxiety among farm owners especially those whose land lie next to rivers.

Adaptation of Rice Farmers to Sea Level Rise

Currently, some of the farmers build dikes to prevent saltwater from flowing into their farms. There’s also a plan to increase the flow of freshwater from the watershed to their farms.

Further reflecting on the issue, three questions came to my mind:

  1. What species of mangroves successfully settled in the upper reaches of the river next to farms?
  2. What are the other adaptations measures did farmers make to mitigate the advancing waters aside from dikes and increased freshwater flow?
  3. What is the salinity of river water next to farms?

Now, can you appreciate the value of having to go out in the field and identify environmental issues that hound communities? In the process of finding answers to questions, the outcome of your study will be helpful inputs that will empower communities.

Figuring out your research topic in the four corners of the classroom will offer you less ideas to pursue. Get up and explore the world.

©2015 January 11 P. A. Regoniel

Eating Insects as Food: A Practical Solution to World Hunger

Have you ever thought of eating little, crunchy, yummy insects such as grasshoppers and cockroaches? What will be your response when someone asks you to have  ‘cricketty-cricketty crickets’ or ‘buzzerry-buzzery buggies’ dinner? Hmm… Quite weird huh! But, if it becomes a solution for the world hunger after 50 years, what will your response be? Oh well, let us see what’s so good about insects and why it is considered as that.

Consumption of edible insects has been part of human history for many cultures. These insects played an important role as part of human nutrition in many regions worldwide like Africa, Latin America and Asia. Rural areas in these regions suffer from malnutrition, especially protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) (Siriamornpun and Thammapat, 2008).

Communities of Thailand for instance, have a long cultural history of eating insects. They have become well-known for their exotic food like cockroaches, beetles, grasshoppers and other insects; it is one of the countries which have the most registered species that make their way into man’s digestive system.

insects as food
Insects served as part of regular food in a restaurant (Photo by Richard Allaway@Flicker.com)

Over decades, edible insects are used for other products like canned goods or snacks on a commercial-scale. Its use as a sustainable and secure source for human diet has continued to increase (FAO, 2010; Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Survival Strategy of Edible Insects

The unpredictable changes in the environment causes many organisms to develop adaptation strategies to survive. One of the strategies is to increase in number of offspring that need little energy investment. The underlying reason is that even if there are unpredictable forces of nature, still there will be some left to live, to reproduce, age and pass on future generation just by mere numbers. Many invertebrates follow this strategy – lots of eggs are produced and larvae are formed but only a few survive to maturity (FAO, 2013; Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Insects place an emphasis on high growth rate which typically exploit less-crowded ecological niches and produce many offspring quickly. The exponential growth curve by Malthus applies in this selection where the population at the beginning is not very high but grows independently at a very fast rate. Nonetheless, these organisms have relatively low chance of surviving to adult stage. Creatures belong under this strategy are called r-strategists (Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Most of the organisms classified as r-strategists are pests. They damage crops or bother human beings. However, the traditional use of insects as food continues to expand around the world and it gives significant socio-economic and environmental values for the communities (FAO, 2010).

Potential Source of Alternative Food – Solution to World Hunger

It was projected that by 2050, the world will be having 9 billion people. To support the food needs of this number, the present food production will need to almost double. Arable land, however, has become scarce due to rapid development. Oceans are over fished and climate change and other related shortages can have direct or indirect implications to food production. To meet these problems, production and consumption should be re-evaluated. New strategies of producing food are needed (FAO, 2013).

worm as food
Barbecue flavored worm crisps (Photo by Flavio Ensiki@Flicker.com)

There has been a growing realization that insects can meet the scarcity in food especially in the many protein challenged regions. The works of Raksakantong et al. (2010) as stated by Siriamornpun and Thammapat (2008) concluded that one of the cheapest sources of animal protein are insects.

Consumption of insects is continuously encouraged by many people due to financial issues. Many of the poorest populations in the world such as Africa and Asia eat insects as part of their diet (Shockley and Dossey, 2014). It has the potential of supporting many rural dwellers including also those street traders in urban areas, where some of these insects are popular among those who want to try alternative food (FAO, 2013; West Africa Trends Team, 2014).

The efficiency and biodiversity benefits provided by insects are potential for food supplies and sustainability of a region. Insects contain higher nutritional quality than animal protein as well as produced more sustainable and with much smaller ecological footprint than most livestock such as pigs and cows (FAO, 2013; Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Furthermore, since insects are r-strategists, they tend to produce quickly compared to livestock, thus, have greater efficiency and biodiversity for they can contribute to human food ingredients even within a short period. There are more than 1 million species of edible insects described and still more than 4-30 million species are estimated to exist on earth, living in every niche inhabited by humans and beyond. For instance, house crickets can lay 1,200 – 1,500 eggs in just a matter of 3-4 weeks (Shockley and Dossey, 2014).

Gathering and farming of insects can also offer employment and more source of income. In developing countries like in Asia, demand for edible insects becomes common. It is relatively easy to bring insects to market. Gathering, rearing and processing into street foods, just like the sale of chicken or fish, are within the reach of small-scale enterprises (FAO, 2013).

Finally, the combined force of traditional knowledge and new technologies in gathering, rearing, processing or producing edible insects is a potential solution for world hunger problems.

Yummy, crunchy cockroach meal, anyone?

References:

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2010). Edible forest insect: humans bite back! Rome, Italy: Publishing Policy and Support Branch.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2013). Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security. Rome, Italy: Publishing Policy and Support Branch.

Shockley M. and A. T. Dossey (2014). Insects for Human Consumption. In Mass Production of Beneficial Organisms Invertebrates and Entomopathogens. J. A. Morales-Ramos, M. G. Rojas and D. I. Shapiro-Ilan (Eds.). Chapter 18. Pp/ 617-652.

Siriamornpun, S. and P. Thammapat (2008). Insects as a Delicacy and a Nutritious Food in Thailand.  Thailand: International Union of Food Science and Technology. p. 1-9.

West Africa Trends Team (2014). Bushmeat and the future of protein in West Africa. West Africa Trends Newsletter, Issue 9. African Center for Economic Transformation. p. 8-13.

©2014 November 27 Shellemai A. Roa

Malthusians vs. Cornucopians: A Viewpoint on Population Growth

The prospects of human population growth may be viewed using two perspectives: the Malthusian and the Cornucopian. The latter views the growth positively; they believe that the larger the population, the better. On the other hand, if it is viewed negatively, this now take on the Malthusian viewpoint where the growth is associated with problems.

The Malthusian Point of View

This principle was named after Thomas Malthus. He believes that once a population increases, more resources are needed to support the growing demand of people. The food becomes insufficient since production could not keep up with the needs of an increased number of people.

Uncontrolled population is a major reason that causes environmental degradation. The theory looked unto resource depletion; degradation of soil, mineral and fuel; famine, crimes, and wars as a result of increased competition in availing of scarce natural resources.

However, the predicted scenarios through time under this theory have some contradictions with the existing population data. Thus, a new thought arose that explains the economic development despite of population growth. Thus, the Cornucopian’s principle started to develop.

Contrary to Malthus’ expectations, the scholars believe that population increase is neither a problem nor harmful to human life. Indeed, it leads to a more developed economy for there is greater number of people who can think and make new inventions.

The Cornucopian’s Principle

The continuous development of technologies from different areas worldwide and the application thereof is the main foundation of this principle. The Cornucopians believe that advances in technologies can give and sustain the needs of the society. The rapid increase in population is positively viewed: more population produces more ideas. Through these, a lot of high technologies and new inventions of systems and devices are carried in to address the problems with increasing human demands as well as improve life. In addition, this view believes that there are enough sources of matter and energy on the earth to cater the rising number of population around the world. So, an increase in food consumption is not an issue.

People become experts and specialized in their fields of interest thus are able to respond efficiently and effectively in the arising problems of society. For instance, advanced technologies in food production helps a lot since more food are produced using new systems.

The Current Reality: Growing Population Affects the Environment Negatively

Many inventions, technologies and new systems are continuously booming. Yes, these help the human beings to cope with the arising human problems. So, the Cornucopians’ thinking has a point.

On the other hand, the Malthusian perspective appears more reliable for we observe that increasing global population lead to increased use of natural resources to meet the growing economic demand. This results to environmental degradation as predicted by Malthus.

We have limited resources. Scarcity on food resources becomes common in many developing countries like Africa and Asia. The report of Food and Agriculture Organization, referred to as the 2013 Global Hunger Index (GHI) from 2008-2012, shows that the global hunger situation has improved since 1990. However, despite the progress made, the level of hunger in the world remains serious in which 870 million people still experience hunger (IFPRI, 2013).

Manila at nightime
Manila at night (©2014 P. Regoniel)

The pollution emitted from  production and consumption of natural resources regardless of technological advantages has negative impacts on the ecological aspects of environment especially on the health of human beings. In addition, due to anthropogenic activities, the climatic condition on a global scale is also affected.

Mobility of people affects the ecological condition of the environment. Encroachments of many lands in rural areas for expansion as identified for commercial establishments and different businesses happen. Settlers, then, in these occupied areas move to higher zones or transfer to other places. Environmental degradation, especially in the forested areas, then happens due to the disturbances brought by new settlers (Grimm et al., 2008; Fragkias et al., 2012).

How’s My City?

Population growth is also observed in the City of Puerto Princesa. The total inhabitants of the City in late 1870s was only 573 while the recorded population in year 2010 based on the latest census of the National Statistics Coordinating Board (2010) was 222,673; an increase of 38,760.91% was observed.

During early 1970s to 1990s, the City has 24 urban and 42 rural barangays. However, the classified urban villages around year 1998 until now increased to 35 barangays, while the classified rural regions decreased to 31 barangays.

Since not all families can afford to have their houses in designated areas of the government, some opted to settle in nearby coastal areas that resulted to squatting. Based from the conducted surveys of informal settlers by the city government during 1993 to 2005, there was a total of 5,326 households in 21 coastal areas of the City and 4,999 from various areas.

In order to solve the problem in housing and squatting, the local government launched a City Housing Program in 1993. One of the identified resettlement sites was Barangay Sicsican (CPDO, 2007).

The traffic situation is worsening in urban areas of the City along Rizal Avenue, Malvar Street and within the National Highway of Barangay San Miguel and San Pedro (CPDO, 2007). In year 1985, the Bureau of Land Transportation, Puerto Princesa Branch (1992) registered a total of 2,989 vehicles generally composed of motorcycles and tricycles. There was an increase of about 1,241.39% or 37,105 in year 2012 (40,094 registered vehicles) from year 1992.

Those are just some of the evidences that the Malthusian Theory may be the right after all.

References:

City Planning and Development Office (2007). Socio-economic and physical profile. Puerto Princesa City. Philippines.

Fragkias, M., et al. (2012) Typologies of urbanization projections, effects on land use, biodiversity and ecosystem services. Chapter 7, p. 30-41.

Grimm, N. B., et al. (2008) The changing landscape: ecosystem responses to urbanization and pollution across climatic and societal gradients. 6(5) p. 264–272. Available: www.frontiersinecology.org

International Food Policy Research Institute (2013). Global Hunger Index. The challenge of hunger: building resilience to achieve food and nutrition security. Available: http://www.ifpri.org/sites/default/files/publications/ghi13.pdf. Retrieved on 8 September 2014.

Land Transportation Office-Puerto Princesa City Branch (LTO-PPC)(2012). Number of registered vehicles (2001-2012). Puerto Princesa City. Philippines.

Balabac Mousedeer: Is it a Mouse or a Deer?

Have you heard about or seen the Balabac mouse deer lately? How does it look like? Is it really a mouse or a deer? For those who are not familiar with this unique species of animal, this article is for you. Read on to find out answers to these questions.

In one of the remote islands of the Philippines, there exists an animal called pilandok or the Palawan mouse deer. Pilandok looks like a deer, but its small size at birth approximates that of a mouse. This may be the reason people call it a mouse deer. When mature, however, it’s way too large to be called a mouse. It can grow to 50 cm from the head to the base of the tail, five times bigger than the biggest mouse.

The term “mouse deer” is a misnomer because, in reality, this mammal belongs to the Chevrotain family. In French, chevrotain literally means “little goat.” Thus, it is neither a mouse nor a deer although the latter gains more semblance.

Judge by yourself where this animal should be classified by the way it looks below.

mouse deer
A mouse deer in captivity shown with its food, a fig species locally called tubog. The owner said the animal was captured while browsing for food near the coast. Photo © 2014 P. A. Regoniel

Do you agree that it looks more like a goat than a deer? Or would you rather call it a mouse?

Notice that the pupil of eye of the mouse deer is oriented horizontally. This feature characterizes goats, hence, confirming the observation that it should not be classified as a deer but to another family, i.e., the Chevrotain. This eye orientation indicates that the animal is active at night.

The mouse deer in the picture was captured way back in 2006 in Balabac Island. Allegedly, a group of locals cornered the confused mouse deer while trying to find food along the seashore amidst large stands of the firefly mangrove, Sonneratia alba. Its favorite food is a species of fig called tubog shown in the picture above.

The animal was difficult to find even while some people say it is commonly encountered along the road. In fact, the  International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the Palawan mouse deer as an endangered species. Being endemic to islands of Balabac, Bugsuk and Ramos Islands at the southwest part of Palawan Island (see map below), its remaining population is threatened by encroachment to its habitat as well as human consumption of its delicious meat.

mouse deer distribution
Population distribution range of the Balabac mouse deer in the Province of Palawan.

Another threat is that nobody has done a population study yet as far as I am concerned. Nobody exactly know how many of these animals are still in the wild. Further, according to IUCN, research is needed on its habitat requirements, threats and conservation needs.

A comforting fact is that the mouse deer are r-strategists, meaning, they reproduce fast once allowed to do so. By the time I get back to Balabac Island again, I hope to see more of them and take better pictures and videos.

Do you have additional information you want to share about the Balabac mouse deer? Write me and I’ll feature your contribution.

Reference

Oliver, W., Matillano, J. & Widmann, P. 2008. Tragulus nigricans. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. . Downloaded on 10 September 2014.

© 2014 September 10 P. A. Regoniel

Three Simple Facts About Jellyfishes

How long does it take for the jellyfish to stay alive out of sea water? Do jellyfishes melt in the rain? What ecological role do jellyfishes play in the marine ecosystem? These are three questions answered in this article. Read on to find out.

The trip to Kitu-Kito, a tourist destination north of Puerto Princesa, on board a raft made of large PVC tubings, appeared to be uneventful until tiny blobs of jellyfishes of different sizes gained our group’s attention. While a scourge to swimmers, the jellyfishes became a subject of photographic interest for me.

Various sizes of jellyfishes bob out of the water, from 5-inch diameter ones with venomous tentacles to the cute, half-inch juveniles. Here are two of them:

jelly fishes
Two jellyfishes swim about in the food container filled with water.

How Long Can Jellyfishes Stay Out of the Water?

Taken by curiosity and instinctively, our boatman caught one of the jellyfishes and placed it on the front edge of the raft. The transparent jellyfish helplessly throbbed just like a heart on the wooden surface indicating that it is alive. Its gelatinous bell (its head) looks edible.

The taste of nata de coco flashed in my mind. I had that urge to slice and eat the chewy head.

I wonder if it tastes like nata de coco? Are jellyfishes edible? The boatman said, “Yes, it is.”

The jellyfish, in fact, is a delectable delicacy in Asia. These are dried, preserved and shipped to restaurants in Japan, China, and Thailand. But I never had the chance to taste it and will not venture to do so unless everybody is eating it.

jellyfish with tentacles
The jellyfish looks like nata de coco, a chewy, translucent, jelly like foodstuff produced by the fermentation of coconut water.

“How long can jellyfishes survive out of the water?” asked one of my friends. Being a biologist, and, not knowing exactly how long it will take for these animals to stay out of the water, I retorted, “Let’s use a timer to find out.” And so we did.

Glancing once in a while and observing the jellyfish for its tell-tale throb of life somewhere in the middle of its body, we waited until no discernible movement to indicate life is evident. After a while and looking at my watch’s timer, I blurted out to the group: “48 minutes.”

Now we learned that jellyfishes could survive that long out of sea water. If it does not return within that period to the deeper parts of the sea during the rush of sea water towards low tide levels, then it gets isolated and fried under the sun or get dehydrated. Thus, it somehow distributes nutrients along the coastline as it becomes a part of the beach ecosystem food chain.

Do Jellyfishes Melt in the Rain?

Another question sprang up. “Is it true that jellyfishes melt when out of the water and exposed to the rain?”

Honestly, I could not think of a good reason why jellyfishes will melt in the rain. They’re not ice cream or made of ice. I have heard this wrong notion on many occasions. And so I simply said, “I don’t think so,” explaining a bit about the composition of animal tissue.

As if to confirm my point, by sheer coincidence, it rained that afternoon despite the generally fair weather in the morning. The raft shook with every gust of wind that pass our way and alarmed almost everyone. I have been through this situation many times in the field and I feel confident that the wind will settle in a few moments.

The raindrops fell on the jellyfish, washing it through and through. The jellyfish, of course, did not melt. It’s still there.

3. Ecological Value of Jellyfishes

Jellyfishes form part of the marine food chain. They prey mainly on the zooplankton. In turn, they are favorite diets of sea turtles. Thus, they help stabilize the marine ecosystem.

Transparent plastics thrown into sea water sometimes get mistaken for jellyfishes. This is the reason many sea turtles die as plastics block their gut and keep them full when, in reality, they are without food in their stomachs.

© 2014 September 8 P. A. Regoniel

Unconventional Solution to Water Scarcity in the Small Islands

Water scarcity in the small islands is a paramount problem that recurs yearly. Climate change appears to make this worse as rains no longer provide enough to replenish groundwater sources. Is there a technological solution to this problem? This article explores the issue in the light of personal experience.

One of the pressing issues of today’s modern world is the depletion of natural freshwater sources. This problem is especially true in small islands where people settled and gradually depleted the water reserves as the island’s population increases due to both in-migration and natural reproduction.

Water scarcity occurs when the carrying capacity, that is when water consumption exceeds the island’s capacity to replenish its store of water. Unless people living in the islands are well aware of this possibility, exceeding the island’s capacity to regenerate its freshwater sources is the eminent, expected result of too many people living in the island.

Solution to Water Scarcity in the Small Islands

A few days ago, this issue has come into play as I was one of those requested by a local government institution tasked to ensure sustainable development in the province. Together with stakeholders from island municipalities, we discussed the environmental concerns of people living in the islands. I was part of the sociocultural sector group that deliberated threats to resource sustainability in the islands.

One of the major concerns of the island communities is the lack of water particularly on those days when rains that replenish the groundwater sources are not available. Some of the people have adapted to this condition by designing structures to catch rain water and store these for use during the dry months.

alone in the island
Beneath the small island is a rich diversity of marine life, human artifacts, among others.

This approach seems to go well, but people complaining about water scarcity means that the issue still bogs them. For those who cannot afford to build large structures to keep them sufficiently supplied with freshwater, this is a real problem; except on those cases where an enterprising member of the population undertakes an unconventional solution that trickle down to the public. I describe this simple but working solution below.

Piped Fresh Water from Abundant Water Sources

Several months back, while searching for a place where our research team can take a bath in Bulawit, one of several islands in northern Palawan, I met an ice-manufacturing businessman. He has a considerable stock of freshwater in large tanks in his house despite the difficulty that other communities in the other islands experience.

We inquired a little about this maverick in the midst of freshwater scarcity, and we discovered that he figured out a simple solution to the perennial freshwater problem many people in the community encountered.

woman fills up container
A woman fills up a container with freshwater in Bulawit or New Colaylayan.

With an air of confidence, he explained to us that a few years back, he looked for a good source of freshwater in the adjoining islands and laid down PVC pipes underwater from that place to his house funding everything by himself!

He made a good business out of it. He supplied the freshwater needs of other people in the community for a small fee. He converted a problem into an opportunity. No wonder he’s the richest man in the island.

Is the Businessman’s Solution a Sustainable One?

If the businessman continues to run his water business for some time, chances are, the source of freshwater will get depleted as more people avail of piped water he draws out from the other island assuming natural increase in island population through time. However, if better technology becomes available before the water carrying capacity of the island is exceeded, such as the discovery of a low-cost desalination system or efficient water recycling system, freshwater availability should not be a problem.

Alternatively, natural, long-term remedies such as reforestation or watershed enhancement will help slow down water runoff and help increase the groundwater storage. Without these measures in place, situations such as that in Nangalao Island, will continue to persist.

If all else fails, the only long-term solution is for the people to leave the small islands and live in large islands or continents where freshwater abound.

© 2014 September 6 P. A. Regoniel

Turning Ocean Cleanup into a Reality

It is common knowledge that approximately 71% of the earth’s surface is made up of ocean water. Unfortunately, these vastly large bodies of water are also collecting devastating amounts of manmade pollution in the form of debris and plastics.

Over time, circular oceanic currents pull the litter into large floating mounds due to the fact that most of the pollution comes from non-biodegradable materials such as plastic, which does not wear down. Sometimes a trash island is created, such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, that spans hundreds of miles.

Resulting consequences of this ocean pollution include 14 billion pounds of additional marine trash a year, as well as 100,000 mammal deaths and 1 million sea bird deaths per year. If we keep on this path, the future of this planet could be headed for despair.

oceans

Even though cleaning up such drastic amounts of debris and plastics is no easy task, there just might be a new breakthrough that could lead us in the right direction.

The New Solution

A new contraption has been devised that can be thought of as an effective rehab for our oceans. Not only would this plan work to clean up the floating trash, it would also take the plastic materials and recycle them into something useful.

19 year old Boyan Slat from the Netherlands has designed a floating structure that would essentially sweep the marine debris into a metaphorical dust pan. The engineering student and his team are on a mission to raise the $2 million needed to build the contraption, even going as far as developing an in-depth feasibility study to lay everything out in the open.

Simply put, the device would consist of numerous floating “V” arms that would collect and push debris to collection points. Trash could be collected up to 3 meters below the surface, which wouldn’t harm marine animals in the process since they could still pass underneath the contraption.

Estimated analysis by Slat and his team shows that approximately 65 cubic meters of debris would be funneled deeper into the device each day, which could then be collected and extracted every 45 days. Ultimately, the plastics could then be recycled and converted into new products, instead of floating in harmful trash patches in the water.

Will it Work?

Though only time will tell, the ocean cleanup contraption looks extremely promising and could very well be one of the greatest innovations to tackle such a major issue. Not only would the amount of floating trash piles in the oceans be reduced drastically, but also marine animal deaths would be reduced.

Additionally, the extracted plastics being recycled into different products would not only help to offset the costs of the machine, but also promote sustainable practices. In addition to cleaning up the already present trash with Slat’s contraption, governments will also need to be much stricter when it comes to the use and recycling of plastics going forward in order to keep oceanic debris piles at bay.

Even though tiny particles less than 0.1 mm would not be caught with this tool, the larger pieces can be collected before they break down into the smaller, harder to extract particles. Regardless of the downfall regarding these tiny particles, money has already been coming in from crowd funding meaning the ocean cleanup team and their contraption could very well turn their project into a reality in the near future.

Water Pollution: Sources, Transport and Distribution of Heavy Metals

Heavy metals are considered as persistent water pollutants. Where do heavy metals come from, and how are these toxic substances transported and distributed? This article reviews several literature along these concerns.

The introduction of substantial chemical, physical or biological material into the coastal zone from land-based sources due to industrialization as well as natural processes such as land erosion affects the organisms living in it. This is so considering that the process involves discharge of insidious and persistent toxic pollutants such as pesticides, heavy metals and other nondegradable and bioaccumulative chemical compounds.

The potential hazard to the marine environment of pollutants depends mostly on their concentration and persistence. Persistent pollutants, such as heavy metals, can remain in the environment unchanged for years (Guzman and Jimenez, 1992). These heavy metals eventually find their way into the tissues of marine organisms as a result of ingestion.

Continuous uptake of heavy metals would lead to an increased concentration in the organisms’ tissues (bioaccumulation) until a saturation point is reached where these metals would interfere with an organism’s vital functions.

Sources of Heavy Metals

In particular, the kinds of heavy metals incorporated in sewage outputs to the aquatic ecosystem vary widely. These are determined principally by the nature of pollution sources whence these metals came.

Possible pollution sources identified by Guzman and Jimenez (1992) include:

1. point sources such as refineries, power plants, ports, dockyards, domestic and industrial sewage;

2. non-point sources such as domestic and industrial sewage, agriculture activities, soil erosion; and

3. unpredictable point sources (e. g. oil waste at sea by tankers, major oil spills.

Discharges of oil at sea by tankers, the use of antifouling and anticorrosive paints to protect vessels and structures, oil spills during shipping and terminal transfers and effluent discharges from refineries are probably among the anthropogenic sources of lead (Pb), chromium (Cr), iron (Fe), copper (Cu), zince (Zn), cadmium (Cd), and vanadium (V) (Guzman and Jimenez, 1992). Also, all metals are normal components of fertilizers, lime and pesticides (Davies, 1980; Alloway, 1990).

Transport and Distribution of Heavy Metals

Owing to the metal’s soluble and particulate nature, heavy metal pollution transcends boundaries. This suggests that a wide range of pollution sources, both natural and anthropogenic, and a very effective mechanism for disturbing metals influence heavy metal transport and distribution (Guzman and Jimenez, 1992).

Rivers appear to be the most important sources of heavy metals in the sea and they carry much larger quantities of the elements as particulates than they do as solutes (Bryan, 1976). These heavy metals which may initially be deposited in one section of a coast or bay tend to be distributed to other regions because of tidal cycles, mixing of water layers and upwelling (Eslemont, 1999), currents, and occasional strong forces in nature such as typhoons, among others. Natural processes prevailing in particular locations influence the concentration of heavy metals.

In Darwin Harbour for example, Eslemont (1999) noted that the strong tidal cycle tends to disperse pollutants. Because of these processes, even the pristine coral reefs are influenced by metal pollution, although at lower levels than the other reefs proximate to pollution sources.

However, the influence of benthic infauna especially on sediment structure, chemistry and transport could not be underestimated. The disturbance of sedimentary deposits by living organisms (bioturbation) could influence sedimentary structure and therefore has important implications for the fate of contaminants. Mazik and Elliot (2000) have demonstrated that there was an increase in bioturbation with increasing distance from the source of pollution.

Literature Cited

Alloway, B. J., 1990. Heavy Metals in Soils. Blackie, London (in Guzman and Jimenez, 1992).

Bryan, G. W. (1976). Heavy metal contamination in the sea. In Marine Pollution (R. Johnston, ed.), pp. 185-302. Academic Press, London (in Guzman and Jimenez, 1992).

Davies, B. E., 1980. Applied Soil Trace Elements. John Wiley & Sons, New York (in Guzman and Jimenez, 1992).

Eslemont, G., 1999. Heavy metals in corals from Heron Island and Darwin Harbour, Australia. Marine Pollution Bulletin, Vol. 38, No. 11, pp. 1051-1054.

Guzman, H. M. and C. E. Jimenez, 1992. Contamination of Coral Reefs by Heavy Metals along the Caribbean Coast of Central America (Costa Rica and Panama). Marine Pollution Bulletin, Vol. 24, No. 11, pp. 554-561.

Mazik, K. and M. Elliott, 2000. The effects of chemical pollution on the bioturbation potential of estuarine intertidal mudflats. Helgoland Marine Research, Vol. 54, Issue 2/3 pp. 99-109.

© 2014 June 12 P. A. Regoniel