Back to Main
To Overseas Start Page
The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
May, 1998 Vol. 1 No. 5

Coastal Alert





More El Niño Woes:
Rare Penguins Threatened

Worldwide Economic Impact:
$20B Donsol’s Whale Sharks Draw Tourists

Gov’t Bracing For La Niña

Vanishing Greens:
1 In 8 Plant Species Nearing Extinction

Environmental Degradation:
An Increasing Threat To Human Health

Our Interconnected Universe:
Trees Follow Lunar Rhythm

E-mail Buzz: News from Our E-mail Box
US To Press RP For Info On Dynamite Fishing

More El Niño Woes
Rare Penguins, Other Wildlife Threatened

Up to 90% of chicks of the world’s rarest penguin species will starve to death this year, and El Niño is most likely to blame, John Darby, assistant director of New Zealand’s Otago Museum, told Reuters in an interview last May 8.

"It’s a disaster," he said. It could take four years for the yellow-eyed penguin to recover from this season, and another season like this could spell doom for the species.

"Pretty much everything that has gone wrong this year has been attributed to El Niño, and El Niño is a factor, but you don’t have to have an El Niño for this to happen," said Darby.

The El Niño weather phenomenon is a change in global weather patterns triggered by an upswelling of warm water in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. A rise in sea temperatures during past months led to scarcity of the penguins’ food source -- about 30 species of small fish.

In Southeast Asia, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) made an urgent appeal on May 8 for funds for fire-fighting equipment to combat peat fires near the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Sabah. Malaysia and Indonesia share the island of Borneo and also the world’s last remaining orangutans. Environmentalists are unsure how many of the red-headed, great apes remain, but some fear it might only be a few thousands. "The key thing that we’re worried about is food for the orangutans," said Zabri Zain, a WWF spokesman in Kuala Lumpur. "The trees are drying up, the fruit is dropping."

Rod Lilley, species conservation officer of WWF in Indonesia, said the forest in Indonesia have been mostly in low-land areas, driving out other rare species such as sun bars, Sumatra tigers and hornbills. Reuters in The Philippine Daily Inquire, 05.09.98, AP in The Philippine Star, 05.12.98

El Niño’s Economic Impact: $20B
The economic impact of El Niño on Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and the Pacific Islands will easily exceed $20 billion, according to a recent Asian Development Bank (ADB) report. For Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, which were hardest hit by El Niño, this translates to a fall in output of 1% in 1998.

The current El Niño caused drought in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, the worst drought experienced by these countries in 50 years. It decreased the acreage devoted to rice, delayed rice planting and induced farmers to switch to low-yielding but early maturing varieties in 1998. It has caused shortages of water for both domestc and industrial use. Since is onset, Malaysia and Singapore have received only a third of their normal rainfall.

El Niño has also prompted fish schools to migrate from the Cook Islands to cooler waters, thereby depriving local fishermen of their livelihood. MNC in The Philippine Star, 05.12.98

Donsol’s Whale Sharks Draw Tourists
Publicity surrounding the killing of whale sharks off Donsol in Sorsogon has spawned a new industry in the small coastal town: tourism. For several weeks now, local and foreign tourists have been flocking to this quiet town in the hope of seeing -- and perhaps interacting with -- the whale sharks, said to be the largest fish and one of the gentlest animals in the world, The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported last May 10.

Conservationists have expressed concern over this development. "Many visitors want to swim with the whale sharks, ride speed boats to take photographs or view them," observed the Inquirer. "Environmentalists already see the potential danger: What if a speed boat collides with another boat or hits a swimmer or a whale shark?" Whale sharks, the paper added, "should not be touched because they shirk on contact and end interaction."

"Subsequent interactions with humans (even without touching) may trigger a learned reaction which will cause them to dive automatically," said Arnel Andrew Yaptinchay, project manager of World Wildlife Fund. "Touching will also adversely affect the natural behavior of the animals, their activities and maybe their reproduction.

Yaptinchay’s appeal: "The whale shark is the resource in focus in this situation. Without them, there will be no tourism. The community and the visitors owe it to the whale sharks that there is tourism in the area. For this, the animal and its territory have to be respected and protected.

Guidelines For Whale Shark Interaction Trips
By Stella Chiu

  1. Bring snorkeling gear, sun protection, some food and water.
  2. Upon arrival at Donsol pier, register and log in with the Donsol Municipal Tourism Council (DMTC) at the Visitors’ Center. Pay registration fees (P50 for Filipinos, P100 for foreigners). Get your research kits.
  3. Wait for boat assignments given by DMTC and proceed to your boat. Up to six persons are allowed per boat, besides the Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO), one spotter and the boat crew. The BIO will be your team leader.
  4. The trip will follow a one-whale-shark, one-boat policy. If a boat has already spotted a whale shark and has raised its flag, or if there are swimmers in the water already, keep your distance. Look for another shark.
  5. Stay calm when you spot a whale shark. Wait for the boat to position itself a few meters ahead of the shark. Do not get off the boat until it is on neutral position and your BIO has given you the go signal.
  6. Only six persons are allowed to interact with a whale shark at any given time.
  7. Do not jump off the boat! Ease yourself slowly into the water and try to position yourself on the side of the whale shark.
  8. Do not touch the whale shark! Stay at a safe distance of about three meters from the body and four meters from the tail.
  9. Do not get in the way of the whale shark’s path or interfere with any of its natural activities.
  10. You may take pictures but do not use any kind of flash.
  11. Scooters are not allowed during whale shark interaction, and neither is towing by boat.
  12. When swimming, consult your spotter for directions. He will show you the position and direction of the whale shark.
  13. Interaction ends when the whale shark swims and dives away. Swim back to your boat or wave for it to pick you up.
  14. Return to the DMTC Station to log out.

Gov’t Bracing For La Niña
Better ready than sorry. Despite assurances from weather experts that there is little likelihood for La Niña to hit the Philippines, the government has allocated P3 billion to fund measures that would cushion the impact of the expected flooding brought by the La Niña phenomenon, Agriculture Secretary Salvador Escudero III announced. The La Niña weather pattern -- also known as the "cold tongue" -- is characterized by abnormally cold ocean conditions in the eastern equatorial Pacific and often brings on weather conditions that are the opposite of El Niño weather. In the Philippines, it is expected to bring heavy rains starting June.

Escudero said the fund will be used to procure "planting materials" for farmers both in irrigated and unirrigated areas in case La Niña destroys crops. Jowel F. Canuday, PDI Mindanao Bureau

Vanishing Greens: 1 In 8 Plant Species Nearing Extinction
GENEVA -- At least one of every eight plant species around the world is threatened with extinction, according to the most comprehensive scientific study ever conducted on endangered plants around the globe.

The "IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants," launched Apri 28 by the World Conservation Union, is the result of more than 20 years of work by hundreds of botanists and conservationists around the world. According to this list, nearly 34,000 plant species, or 12.5% of the world’s vascular plants (flowering plants, conifers and ferns), are threatened with extinction.

"I think the report comes as a shock to everybody, not just botanists, because we didn’t have any idea how many plants were threatened on a global scale," said Wendy Strahm, plants officer in IUCN’s species survival program. As alarming as the figures are, they are probably just the "tip of the iceberg," she noted, since full information was not available for many parts of the world and further study is likely to reveal additional endangered species. The Philippine Star, 05.10.98

Environmental Degradation
An Increasing Threat To Human Health
WASHINGTON -- This news says hardly anything new, merely gives us some hard data that confirm what we already know: Despite vast improvements in global health over the past several decades, environmental degradation is contributing to large numbers of illnesses and premature deaths in many regions of the world. A new report, entitled "World Resources 1998-99" and released jointly on May 1 by the World Bank, the United Nations Environment Program, the United Nations Development Program and the non-profit organization World Resources Institute, estimates that almost 25% of the global burden of death and disease is due to environmental factors.

Globally, 1,400 million people are exposed to polluted air that threatens their health. In China alone, some two million people die each year from polluted air and water. And some 17 million people die each year throughout the world from infectious diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, which are related to environmental conditions in which people live.

According to Leslie Roberts, editor of the report, the problems are worst in developing countries due mainly to environmental problems at the local level, including inadequate access to clean water and sanitation, inadequate garbage collection and disposal, and exposure to smoky fuels used indoors for heating and cooking. New indicators developed by the authors show that people in Africa and Asia face the highest potential environmental threats to health.

"And children are the most at risk, whether they are suffering from cholera or from asthma or are exposed to heavy air pollution," Roberts said. In the poorest regions of the world today, she added, an estimated one in five children will not live to see their fifth birthday. That translates into 11 million childhood deaths each year, mostly due to malaria, acute respiratory infections and diarrheal diseases.

"Some 4 million children die each year from acute respiratory infections alone, which are linked to poor housing conditions and air pollution, especially indoor air pollution from the burning of biomass fuels such as wood, coal or animal dung," said Roberts. Jim Fuller in The Philippine Star, 05.10.98

Our Interconnected Universe: Trees Follow Lunar Rhythm
LONDON -- Like the world’s oceans, trees, too, experience tidal ebb and flow. Their trunks swell up slightly then shrink again, depending on the gravitational attraction of the moon.

This finding is reported by Ernst Zuercher and a team of colleagues from the Swiss Institute of Technology in Zurich in the latest issue of the London scientific journal Nature. The changes are too minor to be seen by the human eye but distinct enough to be measurable. The biologists found that even isolated tree trunks without roots and branches display the phenomenon for as long as they still contain live cells.

For their study, the Zurich team measured the trunks of fir trees for several days and found that they regularly swell and shrink in line with the rhythm of the moon. They concluded that the moon’s gravitational pull traps and releases water in living tree-trunk cells, just as it causes high and low tides in the oceans. DPA in Manila Bulletin, 05.10.98

E-mail Buzz: News from Our E-mail Box
US To Press RP For Info On Dynamite Fishing
US and other world agencies are pressuring the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) and other Philippine agencies for information relating to dynamite fishing in the San Bernardino Strait. It would seem that, after the election, a full-scale inquiry will fall on the area and its politicians in an attempt to stop the blast fishing. The reason is that turtles and other marine life are suffering ear damage and are losing their ability to navigate and therefore migrate. Hawaii environment officials have seen a drop in migrating turtles due to the dynamite fishing in the San Bernardino Strait which is a main crossroads for migrating marine animals. We believe that dynamite fishermen use locally made explosives which are believed to be manufactured on the Samar island of Dalupiri. Captain Steve Beckwith,, 04.12.98




            To Over Seas Start Page
Back To Main

This website was made possible through support provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the terms and conditions of Contract No. AID-492-0444-C-00-6028-00. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID.

Copyright 1998 by All Rights Reserved