Tag Archives: environmental management

How are Crocodilian Populations Studied?

Crocodiles are an important component of the aquatic ecosystem. To keep track of and manage their populations in the wild, spotlighting surveys are conducted. This article details how this is done.

Recalling those days I used to survey crocodilian population as part of my job, I thought of writing this article for those who are interested on how the population of these magnificent animals are being studied. There’s a rush of adrenaline every time I do the spotlighting survey with my team especially in areas where there are large crocodiles sighted. We do this at night along the river, from 6am to 12 midnight, amidst thick stands of mangroves for greater chance of seeing these nocturnal animals.

Materials for Crocodilian Survey

What materials are required to survey crocodilian population? Here is a list.

  1. A fiberglass boat with an outboard motor
  2. A bright spotlight with a 12-volt car battery
  3. Dark clothing
  4. A 3-meter pole with a diameter of about 1.5 inch diameter

Understanding the Risks of Dangerous Animal Surveys

Is it safe to survey these dangerous animals like the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) in the wild? There are risks of course, but armed with an understanding of the behavior of crocodiles, there is no need to be too apprehensive. As long as you have presence of mind, you can ward off possible attacks.

Crocodiles are generally shy and wouldn’t attack a boat with bright spotlight at night as the only source of light. Unless it’s a very big male that tries to defend its territory from intruders. In fact, the use of the spotlight by crocodile hunters almost decimated wild crocodilian population in many parts of the world. Their tell-tale red eye reflection give a clue of their presence, either floating along in the river or basking along the riverbanks.

fiberglass boat
The author with croc survey buddies back in the early 90s.

Why is the spotlight approach an effective tool in surveying crocodilian population? It essentially causes “blindness” to crocodiles when light is focused directly towards their eyes. They cannot see who’s behind the spotlight and will be confused. This is the reason why the spotter needs to wear a dark clothing so that there will no visible object that the crocodile  can aim its nasty, hard clamping jaws that bites with a force equivalent of two tons.

What is the 3-meter pole for? This is just a precaution in case a crocodile attacks for some reason. You can use this to jab on the body of the crocodile and cause it to land somewhere else. They easily tire with sustained effort.

One of the reasons for attack is when someone approaches a nest or mound made up of leaves and mud that contains the crocodile’s eggs. Maternal instinct dictates that the female crocodile has to protect its young. Crocodile spotters should avoid these areas which are usually found in the freshwater portion upstream.

Spotlighting Survey

How does spotlighting survey work? Well, it’s simple. The spotter, holding the spotlight, stays in front of the boat and scans the horizon. He also gives direction to the boatman. Placing the eyes at spotlight level, it is easy to spot the crocodiles because their eyes reflect a gleaming red. The number of crocodiles could then be counted.  To get their population density, you just have to divide the number of sightings by the number of kilometers covered by the survey.

man-eating crocodile
A 17.5 foot man-eating crocodile culled out of its habitat.

If you want to compare the density of crocodile population between or among rivers, looking at the density will give you useful information for management purposes. Management means removing “problem crocodiles” like the one at left photo and maintaining the population at levels that do not threaten the human population. This management approach is applicable only to man-eating crocodiles. There are many other kinds of crocodiles in the world.

Why Should the Crocodile Population be Conserved?

Crocodiles are an essential part of the aquatic ecosystem. They are known to enrich the waters through their excretions and secretions. Their body wastes enhance algal growth that serve as abundant food for herbivorous fishes thereby powering up the river food web.

Scientists once discovered that overhunting of crocodiles led to the significant reduction of fish population in nutrient poor rivers of the Amazon. Also, a study in Africa showed that once crocodiles were hunted aggressively for their hide. As a result, the population of hippopotamus surged and upset the balance of the aquatic and nearby grassland ecosystem. Thus, these highly resilient reptiles reminiscent of the dinosaur age 200 million years ago should be conserved.

© 2013 October 29 P. A. Regoniel

Sustaining Resource Conservation: Economic and Moral Incentives

What motivates people to conserve or protect natural resources? Is it always the economic incentive? Read on to find out.

The previous days with a documentary film crew brought me once again in close contact with nature and ponder why great efforts have been made to keep the natural environment intact in those areas that we visited. These include the awesome Underground River, one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature found in Puerto Princesa, west of the Philippines; the  Mangrove Paddle Boat Tour forest where local folks entertain tourists while navigating a brackish water river flanked by a well-preserved mangrove forest; and yesterday in a rather unique 200 meter plus stretch of family protected coral reef in Snake Island.

Mindful of the plight of these naturals wonders of nature, I explored answers to the following questions:

  1. What were the major reasons for conservation and protection,
  2. Who are the major players and their roles, and
  3. What are the prospects of sustainability of these natural resource-oriented activities?

Three levels of conservation were examined: city government, community, and family.

Economically-Driven Incentive to Conserve: City Government and Community Level Conservation

The driving force behind the first two tourist attractions, i.e., the underground river and the pristine mangrove forest, is mainly economic. The underground river, serving as an tourist attraction, is city government managed while the mangrove paddle boat tour featuring the tall mangrove trees and mangrove wildlife is a community-based sustainable ecotourism project.

The community of Sabang, tour operators, inns and hotels, tourist guides, souvenir shops, and other tourism-oriented service providers benefit a lot from the revenue brought in by tourists willing to spend their money for the mainly aesthetic benefits given to them by the underground river. The enjoyment of limestone formations of stalactites and stalagmites that form impressions like the holy family, the dragon’s head, “the highway”, the cacao fruit, among others make visits to the underground river worthwhile.

underground river
Underground River entrance in Sabang, Puerto Princesa.

 

Meanwhile in Sabang River, tall mangrove trees that make one wonder how long they have been there, occasional encounter with a mangrove snake “sleeping” on a clump of leaves or a python nestled in a hollowed part of a mangrove branch, brackish water fishes, eel, among others, leave tourists spellbound. Their experience is further enriched by tour guides giving an entertaining trivia of information about the mangrove ecosystem.

This continuous inflow of monetary benefits encourage the local people to keep their environment in a state conducive enough to attract visitors. As long as the natural environment is maintained, they will have a continuous source of income. Economic sustainability is assured.

But what if the main motive of conservation is a personal conviction to do so in respect to marine life? How sustainable is it?

Moral Conviction: Family Level Conservation

Mang Felix is probably an unsung hero of conservation who, by his own inner, moral conviction, protected a reef patch as out of moral conviction. He settled with his family in the north end portion of Snake Island, a sandbar which gradually built up through the natural process of sedimentation. Although he initially joined a group of illegal fishers that destroyed most of the highly productive coral reefs of Honda Bay in the 1970s to 80s, he thought that coral reefs are homes to fishes and therefore must be spared from destructive fishing practices.

He built his makeshift house next to a 200-meter stretch of coral reef in  the later part of the 1980s. He rallied the support of his family of eight to keep illegal fishers from that narrow, fringing reef at the west side of their home. Even members of his family are not allowed to fish in that zone.

After roughly 23 years, the small fringing reef became a refuge for different kinds of fishes. Schools of sea mullet (banak) frequent a part of the protected area. Reef fishes live undisturbed in branching and tabulate corals.

The family benefited as they need not fish from far areas and spend a lot on fuel. They fish just around the protected zone, enjoying the spillover effects.

house on sand
The house of Mang Felix bounded by mangroves planted by his family.

As a healthy coral reef abound with marine life, many fishers in nearby barangays took interest in whatever potential yield that reef could give them. They have an easily accessible fishing ground but were prevented from exploiting it because of the gregarious and adamant protection the family gave to that reef. They begun to question the right of Mang Felix and his family to protect that reef, who at a certain point of time were recognized as informal caretakers that kept the reef intact from opportunistic fishers.

There had been several attempts to dislodge the simple home in that part of Snake Island but the family remained steadfast and held on to it justifying their existence by sheer adherence to sustainable fishing methods and never “touching” the reef and admonishing others to do the same. Recently, however, their passive fish corral (tangkal) located a few hundred meters from their house was removed by government authorities for some reason. As a result, more than 50% of their livelihood source was lost.

When asked how Mang Felix would sustain protection in the future, he said that one of his sons will continue the legacy and resist whatever attempts there may be to separate them from the reef which had become a part of their lives.

Discussion

Nature conservation and protection have been the focus of government, non-government or private sectors in view of sustaining the goods and services that the natural environment is able to provide. Sustainability is always the underlying principle in such initiatives. Without the prospect of maintaining the integrity of natural resources and enjoying the benefits these can give, the future generations will have to suffer the consequences: loss of revenue from non-extractive economic activities like ecotourism, depletion of natural food sources, chronic poverty and hardship for small fishers and farmers as their catch dwindled, among others.

The two situations described above show how organized groups and even a family can protect natural resources. While large-scale and medium-scale ecotourism ventures appear to be more sustainable, small-scale attempts to maintenance of natural resource integrity should not be ignored. Family-based protection, when done by many people (see Successful Family-Based Mangrove Afforestation Project) , could be more effective especially when there are enforcement problems as a result of corruption, lack of dedicated personnel, or funds to patrol the vast seas and isolated forest lands.

Conclusion

While economic benefits are strong incentives to protect natural resources, personal conviction and sheer love for nature can assure resource sustainability.

© 2013 October 25 P. A. Regoniel

What is the Difference Between Preservation and Conservation?

Are you confused or unsatisfied with current definitions to differentiate preservation from conservation? Here is a step-by-step approach to deciphering the nature of these concepts.

While the terms preservation and conservation have been used almost alternately when talking about environmental issues or matters, there is a distinction between these two words. Preservation is different from conservation.

How are these two resource management approaches different from each other? This article aims to clarify these two concepts in the light of available definitions and practices.

Definition of Preservation

Merriam-Webster defines preservation as ‘to keep safe from injury, harm or destruction.’ The term preservation was derived from Latin prae– + servarePrae- is the archaic variant of the prefix pre– which means before, earlier or prior to. Servare is the present infinitive of servō, which means ‘watch over, maintain, protect, keep, guard, save, or store.’ Therefore, the two Latin words taken together and to encompass all the descriptions of preservation means:

  • to watch over,
  • to maintain,
  • to protect,
  • to keep,
  • to guard,
  • to save, and
  • to store.

Based on these definitions, in the environmental context, preservation calls for a ‘no touch’ policy, to keep whatever existing natural resources there are, to its present condition. The emphasis is on maintaining the integrity of the natural resource. Strict protection implied for a defined period anticipates the value it can give to present, as well as, future generations.

hunting effect
Consequence of overhunting.

As a matter of government policy, for example, it may set aside and declare a forest as a protected area. One of the features of a protected area is the core zone. The core zone is that specific area with defined boundaries where no use is allowed at all. This area then gets preserved and able to carry out its ecological functions. Thus, it can serve as a natural water reservoir, habitat for wildlife, erosion prevention, flood control, carbon storage, oxygen production, buffer against storms, maintenance of soil fertility, among others.

A game preserve is another example. People are prohibited from hunting game in that region to allow a species with a depleted population to recover. Hence, it is a ‘no take’ zone in view of making it available in the future.

To synthesize everything, preservation, therefore, can be defined as a natural resource management approach advocating non-utilization of a natural resource. This approach views a sustainable flow of benefits that can be enjoyed at present or protecting a resource for future use.

Definition of Conservation

Using Merriam-Webster’s definition, conservation means ‘to keep (something) from being damaged or destroyed.’ This word sounds similar to preservation. But another definition says, ‘to use (something) carefully to prevent loss or waste.’ The latter appears to be a better definition that distinguishes conservation from preservation.

In other words, conservation does not only aim to keep natural resources from being damaged or exploited but to use them optimally. There is the incorporation of the ‘wise use’ policy in this natural resource management approach. Benefits accrues while resources stay the same. Resources are used sparingly or wisely so that they are still available in the future. Conservation emphasizes the use of the natural resource.

The resources subject to conservation may be renewable or non-renewable. For example, you can say ‘conserve water’ or ‘conserve oil or fuel’ but you do not say ‘preserve water’ or ‘preserve oil or fuel.’ Water is a renewable resource whereas oil or fuel is non-renewable or exhausted with use. The use of the latter resource relates to pollution.

Another good definition of Merriam-Webster is that conservation is ‘planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.’ This definition adequately captures the role of man as a resource manager. This definition suggests that conservation is a broader concept compared to preservation. A planned management can incorporate preservation, protection, wise use, maintenance and reduction of the ill effects or negative externalities associated with its use.

Conservation, therefore, can be succinctly defined as a natural resource management approach that seeks to attain sustainable or prolonged use of natural resources with minimal environmental impact.

The two approaches described reflects philosophies in natural resource management. While there may be a difference in terms of the approach, the result is to achieve a sustained enjoyment of benefits.

© 2013 September 21 P. A. Regoniel

Cite this article as: Regoniel, Patrick A. (September 21, 2013). What is the Difference Between Preservation and Conservation?. In SimplyEducate.Me. Retrieved from http://simplyeducate.me/2013/09/21/what-is-the-difference-between-preservation-and-conservation/

Things You Don’t Know About the Black Wasp

Reading this article will help you understand why we should treat the black wasp with respect and appreciation. Black wasps play an important ecological role.

Chances are, when a black wasp enters your home and buzzes its way around, you will try to swat it with anything you can lay your hands on. They are known for their painful sting. In fact, a worker at home once unwittingly disturbed a black wasp’s nest attached to a mango leaf. She sustained three to five stings on her face and had to be hospitalized.

However, after reading this personal discovery about the black wasp’s nest, your behavior towards it will change. Black wasps have important ecological role.

The Mud Nest and Its Contents

Yesterday, when I glanced at the sill of the small screened bathroom window, I noticed a solitary black wasp circling around its nest of mud. I watched it while it makes its way inside the small opening on top of the nest. A few moments later, it flew away.

inside black wasp nest
Fig. 1. The mud nest of black wasp and its contents.

Anticipating that the mud nest will grow in time, I decided to remove it but not after finding out what’s inside that small mound. I carefully removed the nest, starting from the bottom and placed it on a folder to take a picture of its contents.

I was surprised to see that the small mound was full of living creatures. See Figure 1 at right.

There are at least three species of living organisms in the picture. From the left, are two black wasp larvae (the smaller one is yellow-green and the bigger one, light chocolate-brown), a pale red colored caterpillar of an unknown species, and three orange-spotted caterpillars of another species. There’s another one not included in this picture because its life juice was sucked out by the black wasp’s larva; but that one is visible in the video below.

Relationship Between Organisms in the Mud Nest

How do these organism’s interact inside that cramped space of mud? Initially, I thought all of them were developing larvae of the black wasp. But then a question came up in my mind, “how can the larva survive without food in that closed chamber of mud?” Then it dawned to me that the longer ones are actually caterpillars that serve as food for the two plump black wasp larvae.

Also, several months ago, I swatted a wasp and off fell a caterpillar from it. That gave me the idea that the black wasp brought these caterpillars into the mud chamber after laying its egg which then hatches into a larvae. The larva attaches itself to the paralyzed caterpillar and then sucks it dry. That’s a simple hypothesis, and I verified this by bringing the bigger larva close to the caterpillars and see if indeed it will attempt to feed on the caterpillar. The video below shows how it behaved.

[youtube=https://whttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNyKBF84FHQ&rel=0]

The video verified my observation that the wasp larva feeds on the caterpillar until it has enough food ingested for the pupa stage. The proportion seems to be that for each larva in a chamber, two caterpillars were allocated by the mother wasp.

The Black Wasp’s Egg

I peered inside the hole of the unbroken chamber. It is difficult to take a picture through the small hole, so I cut it in half to show a cross-section. Inside is a small egg attached by an almost invisible thread onto the roof of the chamber, hanging there and moving to and fro as I positioned it for a close up picture (see Figure 2). In other descriptions of wasp species, the eggs are laid after food is made available. This species lays the egg first, then finds food in time for the newly hatched larva.

black wasp egg
Fig. 2. The black wasp egg inside a chamber made of mud.

Notice that there is only one egg inside the 1.5 mm thick chamber and there are no other holes anywhere inside it. The top part has a 5 mm opening, enough to squeeze in a caterpillar of specific size, and of course, the black wasp. This means that the wasp chooses a prey with a circumferential size small enough to fit through the hole. This indicates species specificity, meaning, the black wasp is choosy of its prey.

Once the food is deposited, the wasp covers the hole and builds another one to repeat the process until the nest becomes large enough to form a colony. The developing larva inside is safe from ant attack.

Implications of the Findings

This personal encounter draws out many questions that researchers in the biology of the black wasp can explore further:

  1. Which butterfly species do the caterpillar that serve as prey of the black wasp belong? Are they considered pests to farms (since caterpillars are voracious leaf eaters)?
  2. How long will it take for the black wasp’s egg to hatch?
  3. How does the pupa of the black wasp look like?
  4. How long does each stage of the life cycle take?
  5. Why is the black wasp’s egg suspended in the chamber instead of on the floor?
  6. What specific material is the mud nest made up of and how are the materials glued together?

Many more questions can be asked from the observation. These questions arose as gaps in knowledge because the information provided is a one-shot deal. It is akin to a case study. These are exploratory questions based on a single case.

From these questions, the following hypotheses may be tested:

  • The black wasp’s feeding habit can help regulate pest population in farms.
  • The black wasp suspends its egg to give it just the right temperature to allow hatching inside the chamber.
  • The black wasp uses wet mud to build the nest.
  • The life cycle of the black wasp coincides with the life cycle of the prey.

A review of literature will now be more meaningful as you learn things and compare what you have found. In so doing, you can design and carry out a more systematic and rigorous research.

It’s fun discovering and learning things through actual encounter. Using a little wit to deduce relationships between things can help you appreciate how intricate and wonderful life is in this world.

Are all these arrangements a matter of accident or evolution? There must be an Intelligent Being who is responsible for all these wonders.

© 2013 September 17 P. A. Regoniel

The Relationship Between Bribery and the Environment

Bribery can lead to environmental degradation. What are the evidences? Are there solutions to this age-old corrupt practice? This article explores these issues.

The recent spate of corruption highlighting a businesswoman allegedly bribing government officials to channel billions in taxpayers money to fly-by-night or bogus non-government organizations prompted me to write this article. Since my concern is largely on the environmental implications of events like this, I reviewed literature on how corruption, specifically bribery, relates to the environment.

Bribery and the Environment

Considering that governance becomes the prime focus of analysis when corruption issues arise, this discussion will examine undesirable practices, specifically offering of incentives to public officials in view of exempting them from the rule of law or pocketing taxpayers money for their own selfish purposes. Bribery occurs at different levels of government, that is, from the highest administrative or lawmaking bodies to operational levels charged with law enforcement responsibilities.

A brief review of reports on the relationship between bribery at different levels of government and the environment yielded the following summaries and conclusions:

1. Bribery of law enforcers leads to low compliance among violators thus pressure to natural resources.

Sundström’s study[1] in South Africa revealed that law enforcers’ acceptance of bribes from small-scale fishers who commit illegal fishing such as poaching decrease their trustworthiness. As a result, fishers tended to exploit their natural marine resources more than what it can sustain. Overfishing upsets the balance of the marine food chain such that the population of target fishes decline and sizes of fish caught by fishermen get smaller through time.

2. Ineffective regulatory systems results to pollution.

Environmental inspections as a regulatory system serve to deter non-compliance with rules and regulations set forth for approval of environmentally critical projects. Once those tasked to do such inspections receive money in exchange for favorable reports on the project’s environmental performance despite exceeding permissible emission levels, pollution results. The effects of pollution may be immediate (acute) or long-term (chronic) depending on the nature of the pollutant.

For example, if a mining project does not have adequate leachate treatment facilities as a result of non-compliance to required mitigating measures, high concentrations of heavy metals will be discharged into waterways. This will disrupt the normal biological processes in aquatic ecosystems where various organisms including man derive sustenance.

3. Environmentally harmful policies are formulated such that disasters occur.

When unscrupulous individuals bribe lawmakers to craft policies towards their favor, environmentally harmful policies result. For example, if the government allows logging in highly elevated or watershed areas, lack of trees to cushion the impact of heavy rains result to flooding of low-lying villages. This will mean loss of lives and property aside from loss of important ecological goods and services.

4. Unfair allocation of environmental resources lead to further environmental degradation.

If high-ranking officials accept bribes to allow large commercial fishing companies to fish in municipal waters, unfair allocation of marine resources occur. As small fishers do not have the means to compete with the efficient, mechanized fishing equipment of large-scale fishers, they will resort to illegal means that further degrade the environment. One of them is the use of dynamite in fishing wherein large areas of productive reef are destroyed. The attitude that prevails is “Well take them (the fish), before they (the large-scale fishers) do.”thief

What has been done so far to curb bribery?

Acceptance of bribes shows the vulnerability of those tasked to govern and enforce the rules and regulations of a country. Many solutions have been suggested, recommended and enforced including reforms to improve transparency and accountability, legislation to reduce flaws in existing laws, reducing the discretionary powers of public officials, greater awareness among the people, involving citizens in government affairs, and so on and so forth.[2] However, despite these measures, corruption persists in many countries.

The Economic Solution

Based on the resource allocation point of view, the practice of bribery continues because it offers those involved to get more than enough resources to satisfy their wants. The one giving the bribe and the one receiving the bribe both benefit from their transaction but third parties suffer. The negative environmental impacts then are externalities of these transactions. There is a need, therefore, to integrate the externality of environmental degradation as a result of bribery.

In view of developing a research concept using the economic solution of internalizing externalities, economic valuation may be used as an approach to determine if there is a relationship between the amount of bribe and the cost of environmental degradation. Thus, the following questions may be asked:

  • Is there a relationship between the amount of bribe and the corresponding cost of environmental degradation?
  • How much environmental degradation occurs for a certain amount of bribe?

For the benefits gained by both the briber and the bribed (my own terms for brevity), monetary incentives to disadvantaged parties can offset the negative effects of environmental degradation. The point is, the guilty parties should be made to pay for the consequences of their actions. Penalties should be proportionate to achieve environmental justice.

Environmental justice is defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” This means fair allocation of natural resources to everyone should be pursued in a democratic society.

Reference

1. Sundström, A. (2013). Corruption in the commons: Why bribery hampers enforcement of environmental regulations in South African fisheries. International Journal of the Commons, 7(2). Retrieved from http://www.thecommonsjournal.org/index.php/ijc/article/download/370/360

2. Winbourne, S. (2002). Corruption and the environment. Retrieved September 11, 2013, from http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNACT876.pdf

© 2013 September 12 P. A. Regoniel

How is Human Psychology Related to Environmental Sustainability?

Is there a relationship between human thought processes and environmental sustainability? This article illustrates how people’s beliefs can help preserve the environment.

Taking off from the definition of psychology, there is a connection between psychology and environmental sustainability. The Free Dictionary defines psychology as the study of the thought processes and behavior of humans in their interaction with the environment. The way humans think or regard the environment, influences his behavior towards it and vice-versa.

How can human thought processes lead to environmental sustainability? Let me explain the connection by narrating a short story. This is about a supernatural occurrence that shaped a community’s behavior towards an island. This prevailing belief among the fisher folks helped preserve a coral reef for many years.

The Enchanted Island of Marangas

Several years ago, a fisherman docked on the rugged terrain of Marangas Island to take a brief rest from a busy morning doing his usual fishing routine. After pitching the small anchor into the shallow waters, he waded towards the shore while pulling his small boat along with him. He tied one end of the rope at the bow to a sturdy rock offshore to keep the boat from swaying wildly in the wavy, afternoon waters.

He looked for a place to rest in the narrow island. Despite the island’s rocky nature, he found a sandy spot under a tree. He took his late lunch and prepared to take a nap.

The fisherman was on the verge of sleep when, out of the corner of his eye, he figured something moving among the rocks. Something long and alive wriggles towards his direction. This was followed by another one, then another. Then he realized, it was a den of snakes! And the snakes are making their way towards him. All his life, he never saw such a multitude of snakes. island

The poor fisherman frantically snatched his belongings and ran towards the boat. He rowed with all his might without looking back. He was so frightened that he forgot to lift up his anchor until it dragged and get snagged in a massive growth of coral reef. After cutting the rope quickly, he rowed so hard that his boat seemed like a speedboat racing towards the mainland.

The story spread like wildfire in the small fishing village taking twists and turns that made the story even more dramatic. A farmer further fanned the flames of intrigue and awe when he recounted that once, he left a herd of goats in the island and lost them all without a trace.

The people thought the island is occupied by evil spirits. From that time on, the fishers avoid the island and regard it with fear in the belief that the island is enchanted.

A Healthy Coral Reef Environment

What has this enchanted island story have to do with environmental sustainability? Here’s the explanation.

Since fishers dare not approach the island to do their usual fishing activities, the coral reef surrounding that island remained untouched for many years. As result, a healthy coral reef environment thrived. The area was preserved from the rampant illegal fishing activities that plagued many islands dotting the bay.

I witnessed such amazing underwater environment when I prodded a reluctant fisher guide to bring my team of SCUBA divers to the island so we can have a glimpse of the corals underneath. At right is a picture of one section of the reef showing a large tabulate coral with sergeant majors swimming above fragile branching corals. The whole reef was virtually intact despite its closeness to the mainland. coralreef

The Environmental Perspective

The environment is defined as the tangible and intangible things around us. Tangible things are those that we normally perceive with our five senses. Intangible things include people’s norms, values, and beliefs that exist and influence people’s behavior.

Based on this definition, the belief that supernatural beings exist in the enchanted island dictated how the fisher folks regard the island. They avoided the island thinking that they might displease the evil spirits. This kept the island’s surrounding coral reef intact. Hence, environmental sustainability is assured as the healthy coral reefs provide a viable, productive habitat for marine life dependent on it for sustenance.

This story is similar to the Balete tree story. Respecting people’s beliefs by keeping it that way despite its ridiculous, irrational or illogical nature can have some positive benefits. Superstitious beliefs help preserve the environment.

© 2013 August 30 P. A. Regoniel

Household and Government Adaptation Strategies to Climate Change

Flooding has been a perennial problem in many countries. This is made worse by climate change. How do households and governments adapt to these events?

I could not access the internet for the past two days due to service interruption probably caused by the strong typhoon code named ‘Maring” and southwest moonsoon referred to as ‘Habagat’ by the locals. The heavy fall of rain inundated many parts of northern, central, and southern Luzon in the Philippines affecting many residents living in those areas. The rising tide and release of impounded water in large hydroelectric dams worsened flooding in areas where the waters flow.

According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the calamity affected more than 1.7 million people where 17 died, 41 got injured and 5 persons were missing[1]. Many of these people stayed in evacuation centers after the raging waters submerged their houses and damaged their belongings.

Significant changes may have been made to mitigate the effects of flooding because the death toll this week is lesser compared to that of Typhoon Ondoy or Ketsana in 2009 that caused the death of more than 300 persons[2]. Apparently, the people as well as the government may have learned to adapt from experience and prepare for such disasters which seem to get worse.

Climate change is believed to be the primary cause of typhoon severity in the past few years. Despite the controversies associated with climate change, I adopt the side of those practicing the precautionary principle, i.e., it is better to adopt a policy that addresses an environmental problem than having to suffer the consequences of not taking action. Thus, I incorporate climate change in the following subtitles on people and government’s adaptation to large-scale flooding as a result of climate change.

Household Adaptation to Climate Change

While hundreds of people frantically moved to evacuation centers in response to early warnings from NDRRMC, still many others stuck it in their homes saying they are already used to these events and had, in fact, undertaken measures to adapt and survive. Residents even enjoyed the storms, frolicking, jumping in waist deep waters, and laughing it out while taking certain precautions by wearing hard hats and life vests (see video).

Of course, their behavior exposes them to yet another danger, i.e., leptospirosis (a disease caused by water contaminated by excrements of rats or other animals), the possibility of raging waters once the nearby dam releases excess waters in the reservoir, alienation from nearby sources of food if rains continue, exposure to toxic substances that may go with the waters, among others.

Other household adaptations to flooding include adding second floors to homes, modified transportation vehicles, makeshift rafts, thigh high boots, plastic bottles connected together, airbeds deployed as rafts, rubber boats, among others. Many of these household level flood adaptations are inexpensive, largely makeshift, or temporary solutions to flooding.rubber boat

I have not seen a household flooding adaptation on the long-term such as a house on log I saw many years ago in a periodically flooded marsh of Agusan. Of course, having a log house in the middle of the city is absurd but I believe households can come up with long-term solutions to their problems. Relocation to elevated areas, after all, appears to be the best thing households can do. This may mean they will have to forgo their life in the urban centers and live in the hills.

Government Adaptation to Climate Change: Critique and Suggested Solutions

If communities cannot effectively  adapt to flooding, then the government must take steps to aid its citizens. Disaster relief operations always follow calamities like this. This approach, however, is at best palliative. Prevention is always a better approach than cure.

While flooding is a natural event, the government can still do something about it. It can be avoided or minimized to some extent by good environmental planning and action. Good planning and policy can prevent costly impacts of flooding.

In an effort to prevent the costly impact of typhoons, administrators and planners are looking into the contribution of poor drainage, indiscriminate throwing of non-biodegradable wastes as well as buildings that block waterways, and even corruption as unsolved problems that impact on effective flood management.

Poor drainage

Planners in government believe that making infrastructures that promote drainage can help alleviate the problem on flooding. Without incorporating ecological principles, however, this may just be a hit-and-miss approach.

In reality, there is a limit to what a good drainage system can do because Metro Manila was historically a marshland. Flooding is a natural process in wetlands. Cities built on wetlands destroyed a very important ecological function, i.e., flood control[3]. Nature must take its course and repeat the same process (i.e. flooding) when loaded with lots of rainfall. This requires environmental planning that accommodates the role of marshlands: clearing the waterways, leaving existing wetlands as it is, or developing subdivisions away from the natural courses of water.

This entails much cost but the benefits may be weighed against the costs. The impact of climate change appears to worsen each year and investments along this line can prevent future tragedies.

Indiscriminate throwing of wastes that block waterways

Blocked waterways reduces the speed by which water flows to low level areas. Tons of plastic or non-biodegradable wastes still clog the drains. This is made worse by buildings blocking the waterways. This means that in general, many of the citizens still do not adopt good practices in disposing their solid wastes, and city zoning policies are not being followed.

While an appeal to the public to stop them from throwing wastes indiscriminately may work, economic incentives in the form of fines, seems to be a better option. This also requires a vigorous information and dissemination campaign (IEC) to educate the people about the impact of their action to the environment and themselves.

Corruption

Corruption was factored in the flooding prevention equation because a sizable part of the 10 billion pesos in Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF (widely know as pork barrel funds) was diverted to questionable projects of non-existent non-government organizations (NGOs). Only a handful of corrupt officials benefited from such allocations through kickbacks and commissions of up to 45%[4]. A large amount of these funds were earmarked to fund flood control projects.

The government is hot on the heels of the culprits although there are evidences that this corrupt practice have been going on for decades despite rules, regulations and policies that aimed to lower the incidence of this age-old practice. Corruption has been culturally ingrained and became a ‘normal’ part of people’s lives since time immemorial.

A friend and I once brainstormed to find out the underlying cause of corruption. We created a problem tree and arrived at the root cause — GREED.

Thus, the solution to this problem lies at the very foundation of one’s value system. Change must come from within the person.

Conclusion

Successful adaptation to climate change entails effective responses at household or community levels backed by a supportive government. The nature of this adaptation could be short-term or long-term. Well-informed government policies on climate change adaptation strategies appears most critical in providing long-term solutions to avert tragic consequences.

References

1.   Reyes-Palanca, Z. (2013, August 23). ‘Maring’ leaves 17 dead, 41 injured. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://www.journal.com.ph/index.php/news/top-stories/56739-maring-leaves-17-dead-41-injured

2. Agence France-Presse. (2009, October 9). Death toll from Ondoy rises to 337. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/10/09/09/death-toll-ondoy-rises-337

3. Novitzki, R., Smith, R., and J. D. Fretwell. Wetland functions, values, and assessment. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://water.usgs.gov/nwsum/WSP2425/functions.html

4. La Viña, T. (2013, August 6). Investigating the pork barrel scandal. Retrieved August 23, 2013 from http://manilastandardtoday.com/2013/08/06/investigating-the-pork-barrel-scandal/

© 2013 August 23 P. A. Regoniel

Successful Family-Based Mangrove Afforestation Project

Effective collaboration between communities, the government and non-government organizations can help restore the environment. Here is the story of a successful family-based afforestation project.

There are many stories of successful community-based reforestation projects but few describe successful afforestation projects. Intrigued by a colleague’s story of an afforestation program that thrived for many years in Aborlan, a municipality located 69 kilometers south of Puerto Princesa, I embarked on a trip together with colleagues to see how the community did it.

But before you read the story of a successful afforestation project I narrate below, I see it necessary to define the terms reforestation and afforestation. What is the difference between these two terms? Unless you understand the difference, you cannot fully appreciate the significance and uniqueness of this story.

What is the difference between reforestation and afforestation?

For those unfamiliar with terms that relate to environmental or natural resource matters, the term reforestation is more easily understood as opposed to afforestation. These two terms are operationally defined, that is, defined in relation to this story on afforestation.

Reforestation is planting trees once again to deforested sites or former forests that have been logged over, overharvested of lumber or burned due to a forest fire. Afforestation is converting once unproductive or bare lands into forested areas able to support biodiversity, increase carbon sequestration and capture, provide for the natural resource needs of man, among others.

The Case of Family-Based Mangrove Afforestation

Here is a condensed version of the successful afforestation project published in a local journal[1].

The coastal community  of Tagpait, Aborlan undertook a mangrove afforestation project and sustained it for many years. Their accomplishment is quite unique because they used a family-based approach in achieving the objectives of the project.

The community-based mangrove afforestation project commenced through Japan-based Organization for Industrial Spiritual and Cultural Advancement International (OISCA) International. With the help of dedicated Filipino community organizers who trained in Japan through OISCA, the community members led by their chairman, started planting mangroves in a section of the coast virtually without mangroves. The place was used mainly by the local folks for gleaning and fishing activities.

OISCA provided the funds for logistics such as hauling of seedlings and boat hires. On the other hand, the community members contributed to the project by voluntarily gathering the mangrove propagules necessary for their 25 x 400 meter (1 hectare) lots. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) awarded Contracts of stewardship agreement to families in 1991.

The stewardship agreement provided that the grantee may receive technical assistance and extension services in the management of the stewardship area. These services, to be provided by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Agriculture (DA) and other government or private entities, include the procurement of planting materials, harvesting and marketing.

Seventy-eight families started to reforest the muddy portion of the coast on a one hectare per family basis. They nurtured the mangroves to maturity. Simultaneously, they established a sanctuary for fish and other marine species. The community members managed the mangrove plantation, making sure that the area is free of disturbance.

The Outcome and Benefits of the Mangrove Afforestation Initiative

After twenty years of family-based mangrove management, the families reaped the benefits of their labor. Lush growth of mangroves, bisected by an allocated section of open space for fishers to gain access to the sea, characterizes the area. Species of Sonneratia spp., Rhizophora mucronata, Rhizophora apiculata, Lumnitzera racemosa, Xylocarpus granatum, among others species of mangroves grew at sizes of 5 to 10 cm in diameter (Figure 1).

afforestation
Fig. 1. Lush growth of mangroves bisected by a pathway for fishers in Tagpait, Aborlan.

Now, community members harvest timber from sturdy mangrove species of Xylocarpus sp. and poles of Rhizophora spp. Every time they harvest wood or timber, they immediately replace this by planting a corresponding number of mangrove propagules.

Aside from being able to satisfy the community members’ lumber needs, they have now a sustainable source of nutritious food from wildlife supported by the mangrove forest. Occasionally, people come around and trap or gather crabs, shrimps, fish, edible shells, tamilok (a shipworm of the genus Teredo which is considered a delicacy by the local folks), among others.

Beside the open area for boats and along the mangroves, the families constructed a pathway made of bamboo, sturdy mangroves and planks of wood. It is here where hook-and-line fishers and gleaners pass through. This also serves as a pathway for visitors, who come to visit the man-made forest and enjoy the food served by the community members. They charged corresponding fees for the use of cottages and services.

Future Outlook

The use of mangroves by the Tagpait fisherfolk adheres to the principle of the sustainable utilization. However, encroaching individuals from other communities sneak and cut some trees for their own use, threatening forest integrity. There is a felt need among the fisherfolk to address this problem.

Despite this threat, the mangrove afforestation in Tagpait, Aborlan demonstrates that long-term benefits can be derived from long-term initiatives to enhance the coastal ecosystem. Taking the family-based approach in creating an ecosystem that mimics a natural ecosystem is an effective tool in engaging communities towards the goal of natural resource conservation. The family has “property rights” over the resource thus prevent its abuse. The economic benefits that arise from a protected ecosystem further strengthen the need for people to use the natural resources in a sustainable manner.

Replication of the community’s experience in Tagpait, Aborlan in other places will undoubtedly revive portions of the coastal zone where marine biodiversity thrives. The mangrove trees provide shelter not only to dugongs, sea turtles, monitor lizards, molluscs, among others but also to local and migrating bird species. Mangroves are a powerful form of erosion control, buffer against storms or even tsunami, clean the air through carbon sequestration, filter sediment-laden runoff.

Source:

1. Regoniel, P. A., and E. B. Pacañot (2012). Family-based mangrove afforestation in Tagpait, Aborlan, Palawan:
Sustaining the drive towards sustainable development. Palawan State University Journal. 5, 8-13.

Number Coding Scheme: Is It a Good Idea?

Is the number coding scheme implemented in Metro Manila a good policy to reduce traffic congestion? Probably not. Read on to find out why.

The number coding scheme is up again in Metro Manila, this time adding another day ban on the last number of a vehicle’s plate for a specific range of time, i.e., from 10am to 3pm. Is this a good idea at all?

If the intention of the number coding scheme is to reduce the number of vehicles to avoid road congestion, I would say this is a stop-gap measure. In the long term, this would worsen urban pollution as unexpected results can come out of it.

Unexpected Results

I remembered encountering this number coding scheme idea in the textbook authored by English[1] while preparing my lectures for introductory environmental economics students. According to a study conducted in the country (I misplaced my book so I cannot exactly remember the country) that implemented the number coding scheme, the policy produced unexpected results. Instead of decongesting the roads, the opposite took place — more vehicles roamed the streets.

The researchers tried to find out why this happened. They discovered that those who can afford to buy another car did so, to avoid the limitation and the inconvenience of not being able to use their cars on days their plates are banned from the streets. Thus, the roads got all the more congested and air pollution in that city worsened. The added pollution is an externality.

warning

Source: xkcd

Perverse Incentive

In economics, the unexpected result or the undesirable result of a policy is referred to as a perverse incentive. It is never the intention of the number coding scheme to add more vehicles on the road. It occurred because the planners did not foresee that the scheme would encourage vehicle owners to buy another vehicle. They would not give up their convenience, or probably their dire need to use their vehicles daily.

I am not not aware if the Metro Manila Development Authority conducted any study to find out if indeed the number coding scheme had a significant impact on regulating traffic in the major thoroughfares of Metro Manila. It would be interesting to know if the number coding scheme as an incentive was not, in reality, a perverse incentive in the case of the Philippines.

If no study was done to evaluate the impact of the former coding scheme, then obviously, the additional day ban on vehicle plate number is just another guessing game. As I browse feedback on the number coding scheme, I landed on a site that lists the coding scheme as another stupid law.

Perhaps graduate students in numerous universities in Metro Manila may be interested in pursuing this issue as their research topic.

Reference:

1. Field, B. 1997. Environmental economics: an introduction. 2nd edition. New York:
McGraw Hill. 490 pp.

© 2013 July 15 P. A. Regoniel

Competing for Water in Nangalao Island

One of the critical environmental issues that hound small islands is water scarcity. However, not only is the water scarce in such locations but also difficult to access, owing not only to environmental factors but also the attitude of people living on those islands. The experience of a community of fishers living in Nangalao Island is a case in point. 

Impact Assessment

On April 30, 2013, I was one of a composite team of field workers who visited the island of Nangalao, about an hour boat ride from San Miguel poblacion in the municipality of Linapacan in Palawan Province. When the 20-passenger outrigger boat hit the shallows, we have to transfer to a smaller boat towed to the beach by a local fisher until we can step out right to the sand and avoid getting wet.

We have to duck through ropes and wires strung across rows of randomly built houses which occupy most of the beach front. The local government has no zoning scheme so the buildings and houses were in disarray. We have to snake our way through to get to the barangay hall.

My main concern in visiting the place was to assess the impact of a foundation’s various programs implemented in the community for the past six years. The main goal of those programs is to help uplift the living condition of the marginalized fisherfolks whose fishing activities have been affected by the operation of a natural gas project.

What caught my attention was a lady carrying a pail of water across the basketball court, in such a hurry and in an attempt to avoid bumping into teenagers playing on one side of the court.  Thereafter, I saw another group of people carrying plastic containers from the same place the lady appeared. Obviously, they were fetching water from a nearby source.

Network of Water Pipes

This observation puzzled me because I have seen a network of large, black PVC water pipes at the left side of the barangay hall. I asked one of the local government officials to verify if indeed those pipes were intended to distribute water. As expected, he affirmed but noted that those pipes were empty because water flow from source was so weak to fill those pipes for household use.

I thought I would visit the water source to confirm. I asked for a guide to accompany me to the site, which, I discovered, lies two kilometers away.

Water availability is a very important factor to consider when evaluating the productivity of communities. Without water, it will be difficult for people to grow crops and of course, drink clean water to quench their thirst, among other household requirements. How can life be sustained without water?

Thus, I decided to walk all the way to the water source located uphill. That will also be good exercise for me after a few days out of my regular running routine.

The Water Source

The residents obtained water from two sources: one located about a kilometer away from the main cluster of houses, and the other nestled almost on top of a barren hill. My guide, together with another field worker, climbed up the rugged and steep hill devoid of vegetation. A recent fire razed dry cogon grasses (Imperata cylindrica) including a section of the PVC pipes which once funneled water downhill.

What we saw was a surprising, and pitiful scene. Young boys wait patiently for their turn to fill small water containers, with just a stream of water akin to that of a urinating animal. What can you expect in a bald mountain with rocky substrate that cannot hold much water?

scarce water
Boys patiently wait for their water containers to fill at the main water source in Nangalao.

Quarrel on Water Use

We saw a round, cement cistern located a few meters from the fetching area. I climbed by the side wanting to know how much water was in store. I saw the same stream of water from another pipe embedded on the side of the hill barely kept up with water drawn from it.

During rainy days, local folks say the cistern is almost full. Then I said, they don’t need to walk all the way then to the main source.

At that point, the guide told me that this was the situation before. The water pipes had already supplied the water needs of the underlying houses several years back. But residents living next to pipes in the upper elevations diverted the flowing water into their farms. They punched holes in the exposed plastic tubes and got the water for free. As a result, very little water trickled down the line. There were altercations between affected parties. Ultimately, the barangay chairman decided to stop operating the local government’s water services.

Now, everyone took the brunt of the decision. Not only is the water scarce but a natural resource of contention. Access to it is difficult and time consuming (see Opportunity Cost).

If you are a consultant for community development, what would you recommend?

© 2013 July 13 P. A. Regoniel