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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, January 14, 2019
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Conservation Matters
with Errol A. Gatumbato

30 years in conservation

Rock & Refuge

This year marks my 30th year working directly in conservation. I solely devoted my past three decades in numerous fields of environment and natural resources management, both in government and nongovernment institutions.

As I look back to those challenging years, I could not help but think of the days gone by. I was just 25 years old when I started this journey, and now, five more years and I will join the club of “dual citizens” of this country. Eighteen of the 30 long years were also with this weekly column that has been all about conservation, too.

I must admit that the long years in conservation were both fulfilling and frustrating. There were instances that I felt fulfilled when I observed the regenerating forest because of communities’ efforts in forest protection and restoration. It was also inspiring to see local government units leading the implementation of programs and projects to protect our threatened endemic species, and coastal and marine environment.

When research and nongovernment organizations announced the discovery of new species, I rejoiced in the richness of our biological diversity. Much more, I was happy witnessing how national government agencies were strictly implementing laws and regulations on environment.

Sadly, in spite of all the efforts, we are still facing gigantic tasks to really protect our environment and conserve the remaining natural resources we have. Deforestation of what remains of our natural forest continues to this date, and we still have to see the impacts of all reforestation activities when it comes to forest cover recovery.

The greenhouse gas emission of the country is increasing, and it means air pollution is still a critical issue we are facing, especially in urban and industrialized areas.

Solid waste management remains a problem. There are still open dumpsites and proper and effective garbage collections and waste disposal are still much wanting. The solid waste concern is far from over, not until all the capitalists and manufacturers will avoid single use and non-biodegradable plastic containers. Many consumer products, especially the so-called economy packs that are usually affordable to lower income earners, use plastic containers.

I am not aware of recent studies on the state of the country’s coral reef cover. In the 80s, there was a study that claimed our excellent coral reef cover was estimated only at four percent. I could only hope that our coral reefs did not deteriorate in spite of reports of continuing illegal fishing and pollution that are affecting our coral reefs. The importance of the coral reefs could not be undermined in fishery production and in maintaining a healthy marine environment.

One of the conservation outcomes that I still have to witness is the delisting of our endemic species from the list of threatened species. The delisting from threatened species indicates that the subject species is now more secured from threats and its population in the wild is getting stable. I don’t know when it will ever happen, in as much that during the past three decades, more species were included in the Red List of Threatened Species of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

In Negros in particular, the Negros fruit dove remains a lost species since it has never been recorded after it was first discovered in the 1950s in the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park. In recent years, the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. has conducted numerous field surveys in the remaining forest of Negros, but the Negros fruit dove remains elusive.

As a whole, I would say there is still a huge gap between conservation efforts and conservation issues, especially so that we have already created some irreversible damages to our planet Earth, like the destruction of ozone layer. This ozone layer shields us from the heat of sun and helps maintain the climatic pattern of the globe.

We need not be an expert to feel and witness the devastating impacts of the phenomenon of climate change. Locally, there are changes in our climatic pattern, and we already experienced some extreme and deadly weather conditions. The Philippines has a lot of laws and regulations on environment and natural resources, but unfortunately, many of these are not fully implemented.

In spite of all these worrisome situations, I am still grateful for the opportunity to work uninterruptedly in conservation in my own country during the last 30 years. The ups and downs that went along my journey have accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience, which I am bringing now in the global front of conservation work.*

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