British Government : Darwin Initiative call for funding applications.

Darwin project seeks Pinoy fishers’ help in marine study

THEY won’t only count the ways; the fishes, too. Hopefully, the Philippines would have a concrete basis of how much of its marine biodiversity levels have been eroded.

Called the “Darwin Initiative” (DI) and funded by the government of the United Kingdom, the counting of fishes in five coastal areas in the country seeks to answer the questions of which species are being lost, how many and how fast.

“Certainly, we stand at something of a crossroads, between protection and extinction of our biodiversity. This makes the Darwin Initiative more important than ever,” British Ambassador Stephen Lillie said during the recent launching in Manila of DI Project 19-020 a month before top politicians around the world evaluate the Rio Earth Summit ’92 commitments.

Indeed, the Philippines, which lies in the so-called global marine biodiversity epicenter, stands at such crossroad.

While the country’s coral reefs are the most biodiverse marine ecosystem (e.g., 50 percent marine fish species in less than 0.01 percent of ocean area), “the ecological footprint of Philippines reef fishing is the fourth highest among island nations,” a project brief explained.

“Yet the implications of this intensive use for marine biodiversity are scarcely known.”

Project developers coordinated by Margarita Lavides of Ateneo de Manila University noted that this is so because marine fisheries “landings data alone are insufficient in detail.” Ditto with the “time span to explore possible extinctions.”

“Which species are being lost and where, and reference points for possible future recovery are unclear,” she said.

The project brief noted that while Lavides and a group of scientists and researchers detected in 2010 local fish extinctions off Bohol Island, “these ideas need urgently to be tested more widely in the country.”

“Only fishers’ knowledge can now possibly access a 40- to 50-year time span and the circa 3000 reef-fish species involved, but time is running out if knowledge of the 1940s and 1950s is to be confidently captured.”

To do this, Lavides and her group said they would involve locals and organizations within the following project areas: the Verde Island Passage (reputed world epicenter of shorefish diversity); Palawan; the Pollilio Group of Islands; Danajon Bank in Cebu; and Lanuza Bay.

“Gathering [fishers’] knowledge has the added benefit of furthering understanding, collaboration and trust between scientists, NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and the fishing communities involved.”

By doing so, the project developers hope they can identify which fish species have “substantially declined or disappeared” at the five locations.

But despite worries such threats have already rippled in the Philippines’s coral reefs and marine biodiversity level, Lillie believes these remains “one of the country’s greatest assets.”

“Managed properly, they can make a huge contribution to your future development, including to realize the Philippines’s huge potential as an international tourism destination.”

Named after On the Origin of the Species British author and scientist Charles Darwin, the project has invested £88 million (P6 billion) in 756 projects in 155 countries since it was announced by the UK government at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

Lillie said that “despite the difficult current financial climate,” the British government “have been able to commit to continued funding from 2010 to 2015.”


Saturday, June 23, 2012 12:00 AM    by:DENNIS D. ESTOPACE



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