SF Bay area, Philippine organizations hold book launch, talk on protecting Verde Island passage in the Philippines

Author Almira Astudillo Gilles (right) personalizes a copy of her book for environment advocate Mrs. Conchita Lopez Taylor (left). (Photo courtesy of Pia Lopezbanos-Carrion)

By Pia Lopezbanos-Carrion

Global importance of Philippine hotspot for marine biodiversity stressed

“There is nothing more magical than taking a child into the water with a mask to see the world under.” This is how Dr. Terrence Gosliner, senior curator of Invertebrate Zoology of the California Academy of Sciences, vividly describes the amazing, colorful life underwater at the recent well-attended book launch of “Hotspot, Cool Country: Biodiversity in the Philippines” by Filipino American author Almira Astudillo Gilles.

The event, hosted at the Social Hall of the Philippine Center in San Francisco, was supported by the Philippine American Writers and Artists (PAWA), Inc./Filipino American Book Festival, California Academy of Sciences, SEA Institute, Pusod, Inc., ABS-CBN Bantay Kalikasan/Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation, Inc. and the Philippine Consulate General of San Francisco. ABS-CBN The Filipino Channel (TFC) provided full media support for the event.

The talk was emceed by Edwin Lozada from the Board of Directors of PAWA.

“Hotspot, Cool Country” is a picture book that features the Philippines’ unique wildlife and marine life, one of the most at risk on the planet. The book is rich in information and highlights the richness of the species that can be found endemic to the Philippines. One can gather from the book how the Philippines is both megadiverse – which means it has more species concentrated in its territory than other countries – and that makes it a really cool country. But, it is a hotspot at the same time.

The author reiterates that “Cool country is a good thing because there are new species being discovered every day in the Philippines. But hot spot is not a good thing. That means it is vulnerable to species extinction. The need for conservation is urgent.”

Gilles believes her book “Hotspot, Cool Country: Biodiversity in the Philippines” is necessary “because there is no book right now that introduces students to the natural wonders of the Philippines.” Her book is one for all ages that instills pride and love for country.

“Inflatable sharks, frogs that fly, metal-eating plants, cicadas that laugh” are just a few of the unique species that can be found in the Philippines. There are 9253 species of plants, 535 species of birds, 281 species of freshwater fishes, 245 species of mammals found in the country, to name a few. These numbers constantly change because many new species are being identified, while others could vanish or become extinct.

A very important portion of biodiversity is identified as the Verde Island Passage (VIP) which is approximately 1.14 million hectares of seascape stretching between the provinces of Batangas, Occidental and Oriental Mindoro, Marinduque, and Romblon. According to Dr. Gosliner, “The Verde Island Passage is the richest part of the Philippines.”

Gosliner’s colleague Rich Mooi, director of Citizen Science, California Academy of Sciences, also claims that “the diversity of the species completely blew me away. I’ve never been anywhere on a planet that was even remotely like that.” The throbbing, thriving life in this region has led experts to call the VIP the “center of the center” of biodiversity. It is also threatened by technology, industry, overdevelopment, and pollution. The book reveals that “there is a race between species extinction and discovery. The Earth is now losing species at the fastest rate since the disappearance of dinosaurs.” That is why it is imperative to protect identified hotspots. It is important to safeguard and preserve this very important stretch that is the VIP.

Roberta Lopez Feliciano, chairman of the SEA-VIP Institute (Science, Education and Advocacy promoting science-based conservation in the Verde Island Passage) is determined to put in place systems and processes to bring together government, NGOs, businesses, the academe, and the community in order to align research, educational outreach and conservation efforts. Feliciano believes that “every little ripple of action goes a long way.” She is convinced that “you can’t really care about the environment unless you experience it first-hand.” That is why the SEA-VIP Institute wants to bring science into people’s lives.

Similarly, Atty. Ipat Luna, environment activist and president of Pusod, Inc (a non-profit organization that aims to protect and enhance the ecosystems of the Philippines), underlines the importance of encouraging Fil-Ams to go to the Philippines for them “to see and experience what it is they are trying to protect.” She stresses that “until someone is able to link what he or she is eating to the environment conservation advocacy, that person will not give a sustained commitment.”

Feliciano has pointed out that currently, various groups in the Philippines are putting measures in place to bring ahead conservation efforts. She cited that the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez, has marked 17 hotspots in the country to serve as a model on how nature can be protected in other areas.

Conservation, preservation and protection are necessary in order to leave behind a bountiful country for future generations. TFC supports like-minded organizations in promoting a sense of stewardship for the natural resources of the motherland.-