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The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
March, 1998 Vol. 1 No.3

Coastal Alert





Dolphins and Whale Sharks: No Safe Haven?
Eco-friendly NGOs
Learning about Turtles from Myrtle
Environment Gets Short Shift from US TV

Water -- This Precious, Limited Resource


Whale Sharks: No Safe Haven?
At least seven whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) have been caught and slaughtered in Sorsogon in March, according to reports. The whale sharks, known as butanding locally and as balilan in Cebuano, were chopped on the beach and reportedly sold for P10,000 each to a Taiwanese fishing firm, which resells the meat and body parts for as much as P800,000. Former Environment Secretary Angel Alcala said he received information that the sharks were slaughtered in Pilar with the permission of the barangay captain (village chief).

     Whale sharks are considered the world’s largest fish (it is a shark and not a whale, which is a mammal) and the biggest cold-blooded animal. Feeding on planktons and small fish, they can grow to a maximum length of 15-18 meters and weigh up to 20 tons. They are gentle, friendly and harmless to man, and usually swim alongside seagoing vessels, sometimes even allowing humans to ride on their backs.

          The waters off the western part of Sorsogon apparently serve as grazing area for whale sharks. According to reports, a pod of 40 to 50 whale sharks can be seen here at any given time, particularly in the waters of the town of Donsol. This is a phenomenon rarely found in other parts of the world, according to marine experts.

The slaughter prompted the Sangguniang Bayan of Donsol to declare its waters as a whale shark sanctuary. It also proposed an ordinance banning the catching and slaughter of the rare fish, while concerned agencies groups, including the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Silliman University and the Kabang Kalikasan ng Pilipinas (KKP, the Philippine partner organization of the World Wildlife Fund) pushed for a province-wide ban.

On March 25, Agriculture Secretary Salvador Escudero III signed Fisheries Administrative Order 193 banning the killing and sale of whale sharks and manta rays to prevent their rapid depletion. The order, according to the latest reports, has been ignored by fishers in Donsol. A few days after it was issued, another whale shark was caught off Donsol and towed out of municipal waters to Masbate for butchering.

Meanwhile, on Pamilacan Island, Bohol, fishers are said to be "outraged" by the nationwide ban on whale shark hunting. Pamilacan has a long tradition of whale shark hunting -- fishers here look at this practice as a way of life and the only way they know to eke out a living. Once, these fishers were said to have given up the practice but, as the public affairs TV program Brigada Siete (GMA-7) recently reported in a story produced with the help of the Cebu-based Coastal Resource Management Project (CRMP), whale shark hunting is still very much alive on the island. Brigada Siete reported that as many as five whale sharks were slaughtered in the three days that its crew were on Pamilacan. Reynaldo T. Jamoralin in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 03.23.98, Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 04.02.98

Eco-friendly NGOs
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been doing more than their fair share in keeping our planet clean and healthy, the Bangkok-based United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) said in a report. According to the Commission, NGOs have spearheaded advocacy and action programs aimed at better environmental policy and legal reforms, environmental education, as well as change of personal attitudes and conduct for a better environment. The last few years, especially, saw the rise of powerful people’s movements in different countries of the region, many of them linked to environmental issues.

          The paper said NGOs believe they have to reach out not only to the average members of the public through their awareness programs but also to elected representatives of the people, legislators, policy and decision-makers, corporate executives, multinational companies, mass media, fellow NGOs, and disadvantaged sectors of the community. National NGOs have also formed alliances with regional or international NGOs in their campaigns. While some of these alliances have been effective, they have resulted in these groups being accused of blocking development in their own countries with the support of western environmentalists. Nonetheless, the paper stressed, government agencies have come to respect and incorporate the views of well-established NGOs which support their advocacy positions with facts, figures, and scientific assessment. PNA in The Freeman, 03.16.98

Learning about Turtles from Myrtle
An old dog may not learn new tricks, but researchers at the New England Aquarium have discovered that an old turtle can. Myrtle, a 500-pound, fiftyish, green sea turtle, is the centerpiece of a study to learn more about how endangered sea turtles hear in order to devise advanced methods of saving them from things such as fishing nets.

          The researchers are using operant conditioning -- a training method used with marine mammals like seals and sea lions -- to encourage behavioral responses through positive reinforcement. Myrtle is given fish, squid or lettuce every time she indicates she has heard a recognizable tone by touching a plastic glass circle.

          Myrtle has learned to position herself comfortably at a particular station and to stay there until she hears a tone. The researchers send out tones of varying frequencies and when Myrtle hears one, she touches the plastic glass circle.

          "It’s been an education working with Myrtle," said Kathy Streeter, the principal investigator. "But the project is challenging. Myrtle is not as agile as a marine mammal. I have learned to be patient and watch carefully for Myrtle’s reaction, which are very clear. I never would have thought a turtle would be so opinionated."

          In the future, researchers hope to determine if sounds can be used to help free-ranging sea turtles avoid fishing nets, a serious threat to turtles in the wild.

          Funding for the two-year project comes from an Office of Naval Research Grant totaling $120,000. CNN in The Freeman, 03.23.98

Environment Gets Short Shift from US TV
If TV networks are showing fewer and fewer environmental stories in the news, it’s because news directors think viewers find these stories boring, an article in EJ News, a newsletter of the Environmental Journalism Program, said. Author Jim Detjen noted that media consultants are advising TV news directors to make news stories shorter, simpler and with fewer shades of gray.

          "If news directors -- in an effort to boost ratings -- follow this advice, it’s easy to see why environmental stories are given short shift," Detjen remarked. "How can you accurately and fairly report about a complex environmental story involving climate change in 90 seconds or less?" Indeed, the amount of time dedicated to environmental news on TV has declined during the past seven years.

          In 1989, said Detjen, ABC, CBS and NBC broadcast 774 minutes of environmental news on their evening newscasts. This figure dropped to just 174 minutes in 1996, less than a quarter of what it was seven years earlier. Ironically, the reduced number of environmental stories on TV comes at a time when surveys show that there is a high level of public interest in environmental topics. A survey conducted earlier this year by Roper Center in Stores, Connecticut found that environmental topics ranked third among all news topics in popularity. In June 1997, an international survey involving 27,000 people in 24 countries found there are strong and growing environmental concerns across virtually all countries, and public interest in environmental issues in these countries remains high.

‘Beating’ El Niño
As El Niño begins to take its toll on water supplies everywhere, people realize there are many ways to beat the worrisome weather phenomenon. The Philippines has been getting its fair share of advice on surviving El Niño:

  • An Israeli diplomatic mission was in town this month to unveil a "techno farm" in Los Baños, Laguna. The nine-hectare demonstration farm produces sweet corn and a wide variety of vegetables (tomato, pepper, lettuce, melon, okra, ampalaya (bitter gourd), eggplant, cucumber and squash) with limited water and land. It features two greenhouses especially designed for "soil-less farming". Here, vegetables grow not on soil but on a combination of volcanic gravel and coconut peat. The entire farm is fed by an automated irrigation system that aims to optimize water use and minimize waste. Experts say the technology can be used for large-scale farming. Philippine Daily Inquirer, 03.15.98
  • In Medellin, Cebu, the mayor is encouraging people to move to Cebu City, a trading and commercial center, to escape a severe water shortage in their hometown. "Migration is one of our solutions to minimize the effects of the El Niño phenomenon," Mayor Joven Mondigo was quoted saying. The mayor said Medellin residents have jobs waiting for them in the city either as babysitters, helpers, janitors, drivers and food handlers. Water sources in 10 out of 19 barangays in Medellin are "totally dried up," he added. Sugar plantations in the area, which employ thousands of residents, have laid off workers. Water rationing started in early February. Fritzie Joy L. Dungog, PDI Visayas Bureau in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 03.05.98
  • · How about recycling sewage into drinking water? No problem, said Ernesto Labuntog, a mechanical engineer. Labuntog claimed he has developed a technology that allows the extraction of reusable and even drinking water from sewage. "With as little as P100,000, we can establish a pilot plant anywhere in Cebu," he said, stressing that the technology is not new but has never been used in the country. It involves passing raw sewage through a series of filters to purify it. The only drawback, said Labuntog, is people’s resistance to the idea of drinking water the comes from sewage. The Independent Post, 03.03.98
  • · Meanwhile, delegates attending an international conference on water adopted this month an action plan calling for better protection and management of water resources and stressing the need for more cooperation between countries. The action plan adopted at the end of the three-day "International Conference on Water and Sustainable Development" held at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris will be submitted for ratification in May to the UN Commission for Sustainable Development. It stresses the need for improving knowledge of water resources by strengthening information systems and facilitating regional and international cooperation. It also calls on public authorities to promote projects and agencies that deal with water management and to encourage more input from the public as well as vocational training for professionals. "We should strengthen studies which aim to improve knowledge of water costs in the different uses, to monitor performance and to provide economic indicators at national and regional levels, taking into account the interests of the states involved," the proposed action plan states. AFP in The Independent Post, 03.23.98
  • · If all else fails, use gay power. In a village of Bayawan town, about 100 kilometers south of Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental, a gay pageant was accompanied by a torrent of rain and had farmers of the bone-dry land in another village clamoring for a similar pageant to be held there. Bayawan Mayor Ernesto Tijin is inclined to heed the call of the desperate. "If it is effective in bringing rain, why not? We need rain. Cloud seeding has no effect," he said. Despite thick clouds over the southeastern portion of Negros island brought about by the north wind and cloud seeding operations, many villages in Bayawan have been without rain since the start of the year. Philippine Daily Inquirer, 03.17.98

Dry, Drier, Gone
"The worst calamity our town ever had." This was how Jovito Bondoc, mayor of San Luis, Pampanga, described the water shortage that has already resulted in starvation in his town. The town’s rice production went down after the National Irrigation Authority cut off the irrigation systems in the eastern Pampanga towns and diverted the water supply to Metro Manila, the mayor said. Ernesto Manalang, a farmer in Barangay San Isidro, said more than 5,000 hectares of agricultural lands in four barangays have been unproductive since December due to lack of irrigation facilities. There are about 2,000 families experiencing starvation in Sto. Niño, San Jose, San Isidro, San Roque and parts of San Juan, San Nicolas and Sta. Monica.

          In Sultan Kudarat, farmers are threatening to break into warehouses of the National Food Authority (NFA) if the government did not grant them cereal loans. Hernani Avila, leader of the 10,000-strong Demokratikong Magbubukid ng Sultan Kudarat (Democratic Farmers of Sultan Kudarat), said the farmers are left with no choice. "This means survival, the farmers have nowhere to go," he said. Severe drought has destroyed at least P20 million of agricultural crops in Sultan Kudarat, which, along with other provinces severely affected by El Niño, has been placed under a state of calamity. Bert Basa, Edwin Fernandez with Carolyn Arguillas in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 03.19.98

Safe from La Niña?
The Philippines will likely experience a "gradual transition" to normal climate condition starting April and May after the current El Niño episode which peaked last month tapers off steadily until end of the year. Though "the occurrence of La Niña cannot be totally discounted," Director Leoncio Amadore of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said, "the more likely scenario" is a moderate return to "neutral conditions" as abnormally high temperatures over tropical central and eastern Pacific Ocean normalize.

          La Niña, also called El Viejo or mature El Niño, ushers in higher occurrence of cloudiness and rains over the warm waters off the western Pacific, including the Philippines. "Normally, the peak of the southwest monsoon or the typhoon and rainy season comes during the months of July, August and September." This should not be confused with a La Niña episode, Amadore said, even as he assured the public that PAGASA will continue its climate monitoring work, sourcing data from a network of meteorological agencies worldwide to keep the public informed of the latest developments affecting the country.

          Amadore also expressed support for "preparedness or contingency plans being put in place by other government agencies which will become handy in case of typhoons and floods" especially in traditionally vulnerable agriculture-producing regions and flood-prone provinces. The Freeman, 03.23.98

Managing Water’s ‘Conflict Potentiality’
Institutional skills will be needed to push sustainable and global water resources management, says a paper released for the International Water and Sustainable Development Conference held at the UNESCO in Paris, France this month. Two-thirds of the world’s major catchment areas are shared by several countries, a situation which increases conflict potentiality. Though most developed countries have set up management systems in keeping with the situation, upstream and downstream solidarity is far from being spread, and serious regional tensions exist regarding resource sharing. The more rare the resource, the greater the conflict potentiality, the paper said. PNA in The Freeman, 03.20.98



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