By Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman

A CLUSTER of more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries. But it is also at the forefront of abuse and misuse, threats like trafficking, mining, and illegal fishing. The people in the affected communities also fall prey to these hazards because they are misinformed, left without a choice, and sometimes, indifferent.

A movement for earth conservation

These same problems occur around the world. A presentation by the United States Agency International Development (USAID) at a press conference on March 6 painted a grim picture of the world we are living in: species are going extinct at 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate; three fourths of the world’s of fish are harvested before they can reproduce; forrested areas as big as 50 soccer fields are lost every minute; 96 elephants are being killed every day in Africa; and over 1,000 rangers have been killed by animal poachers in the last 10 years.

The revenue from wildlife trafficking amounts to more than $8 billion annually, the report said.

To educate people of the importance of wildlife and conservation, USAID and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have collaborated on a project called “Protect Wildlife.” The five-year, P1.2-billion project aims to address the challenges facing biodiversity in the Philippines.

The project will start with three identified hotspots in the country: Palawan, Tubbataha Reef, and the Sulu Archipelago which includes Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga.

“We first identified the hotspots, for example, Palawan has the pangolin and talking mynah. Minsan, ’yung mga tao, madaling mabayaran. (Sometimes, the people there are easily paid off.) ’Yung mynah P50 lang nila ibebenta tapos magiging P5,000 to P7,000 na sa black market (They sell the mynah for only P50, which is in turn sold for P5,000 to P7,000 on the black market). We are losing,” the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau director, Theresa Mundita S. Lim, told BusinessWorld.

“But if we train them for bird watching or as tour guides, they will appreciate the value of the species when alive [rather] than dead,” she added.

A burrowing animal which feeds on ants and termites, the pangolin — often called “scaly anteaters” — is the most poached mammal in the planet according to

Protect Wildlife’s first priority is education among citizens about wildlife and teaching them that they can earn revenue from sustainable jobs. “We need to see how we can communicate development programs more effectively so that people will appreciate better the benefits of conservation,” said Ms. Lim.

The project will follow a five-step approach, said US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim. First is education, then the involvement of private and public sectors; improvement of biodiversity conservation competencies of local government units; enhanced capacities of universities to advance biodiversity education and innovation; and the enhancement of national and local biodiversity laws and policies.

“Natural resources and biodiversity play an important part in the Philippine economy. This is why the US government, through USAID, has been working with national and local governments, private sectors, civil societies, and individual communities to strengthen natural and environmental resource management in the country,” said Mr. Kim.

For now, all of these remain a plan. “We are going to sit down and come up with timelines with USAID,” said Ms. Lim.

“The most important thing is the active participation; we have to capacitate the communities. We have the budget, we have the commutation [strategy], we have to take advantage of these,” she said.