[Initially published as an fb note, Jan. 13, 2017]

Palawan, the “last ecological frontier.” The dynamic geologic history of Palawan give rise to the diversification and speciation of many organisms. Palawan is one of the, if not the oldest landmass of the Philippine archipelago, dating back more than 50 million years ago (Hall, 1998). Palawan is known for its biogeographic novelty (Brown et al., 2013) due to its remarkable history harboring numerous taxa. Geologic changes in West Philippines Sea (WPS) such as tectonic movements, alterations in river inputs and sea level induced basin enclosure (Ivanova, 2009) contributed to the creation of the stunning Palawan islands and its rich marine and terrestrial biodiversity.

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Tectonic features of South East Asia 20 and 50 million years ago from Hall (1998)
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‘Major geological features and approximate tectonic evolution of the archipelago’ from Brown et al 2013
In fact, Palawan is the Earth’s 4th most irreplaceable area for conservation of amphibian, bird, and mammal species (Le Saout et al., 2013). Even up to now, scientists are still discovering new species in Palawan – birds, plants, fishes, crabs name it! (Rubite et al., 2015, Maeda & Palla, 2015 and many others). It is hypothesized that reefs in Palawan and surrounding waters (i.e. Kalayaan Group of Islands) are important sources of fish and invertebrate larvae (Juinio-Menez 2003 & reference herein). Hence, deterioration of the marine environment in Palawan waters will lead to the possible collapse of fisheries elsewhere in the Philippines. So when we say that Palawan is the last ecological frontier, we mean it!
Zooming in on corals, the home of many marine organisms. Contrary to the seemingly rock-like features, corals are very sensitive organisms. They survive in very narrow environmental conditions (Muir et al., 2015). Corals can be regarded as tiny creatures with soft tissues attached to a calcium carbonate skeleton. Step on them and you will smash their tissues into pieces. Corals are important because they are home to many marine organisms, alongside seaweeds, seagrasses, and mangroves which are equally important.
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Source: http://www.dkfindout.com/uk/animals-and-nature/jellyfish-corals-and-anemones/corals/

It’s a crucial time for the corals. They are under extreme threat due to increasing ocean temperature, ocean acidification and increasing occurrences of coral diseases (Hughes, et al. 2003; Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2007; Carpenter et al., 2008). So imagine if these organisms are subjected to another stress. Case in point is building infrastructures in coastal areas near coral reefs. Direct impacts include increase sedimentation and various waste discharges to these coral reefs (NOAA, 2016). Economically speaking, the Philippine coral reefs provide approximately US $1.1 billion per year through services, including coastline protection, food security, tourism, and employment (Chou, Tuan et al. 2002). This is more than enough reason to include them in the government’s national priority.

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Source: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral-pollution.html
To cut the long story short. Palawan is an extremely unique area. Local and international scientists are continued to be amazed by its remarkable megadiversity. Not to mention the underrated value of reef ecosystem to our economy. Hence, it is of great importance to protect such area. The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development should make any Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) public or better yet, commission a multisectoral body that will assess the project (from NGO, academic institutions, DENR etc). My position is aligned with the Save Philippine Seas (SPS). As SPS puts it “while we urge CWP to publicly disclose the details of their project, we still stand by our position for them not to proceed with their project and to re-channel their budget to support existing marine protected areas and sustainable livelihood programs for communities.”
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References:
  • Brown et al. 2013. Evolutionary processes of diversification in a model island archipelago. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst. 44:411–35
  • Carpenter, K. E., M. Abrar, G. Aeby, R. B. Aronson, S. Banks, A. Bruckner, A. Chiriboga, J. Cortés, J. C. Delbeek, L. DeVantier, G. J. Edgar, A. J. Edwards, D. Fenner, H. M. Guzmán, B. W. Hoeksema, G. Hodgson, O. Johan, W. Y. Licuanan, S. R. Livingstone, E. R. Lovell, J. A. Moore, D. O. Obura, D. Ochavillo, B. A. Polidoro, W. F. Precht, M. C. Quibilan, C. Reboton, Z. T. Richards, A. D. Rogers, J. Sanciangco, A. Sheppard, C. Sheppard, J. Smith, S. Stuart, E. Turak, J. E. N. Veron, C. Wallace, E. Weil and E. Wood (2008). “One-Third of Reef-Building Corals Face Elevated Extinction Risk from Climate Change and Local Impacts.” Science 321(5888): 560-563.
  • Chou, L., V. Tuan, T. Yeemin, A. Cabanban and PhilReefs (2002). “Status of coral reefs of the world: Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville, Queensland.”
  • Hall, R. 1998. The plate tectonics of Cenozoic SE Asia and the distribution of land and sea, in Biogeography and geological evolution of Southeast Asia. R. Hall and J. D. Holloway, eds. Leiden: Brackhuys, 99-132
  • Hoegh-Guldberg, O., P. J. Mumby, A. J. Hooten, R. S. Steneck, P. Greenfield, E. Gomez, C. D. Harvell, P. F. Sale, A. J. Edwards, K. Caldeira, N. Knowlton, C. M. Eakin, R. Iglesias-Prieto, N. Muthiga, R. H. Bradbury, A. Dubi and M. E. Hatziolos (2007). “Coral reefs under rapid climate change and ocean acidification.” Science 318(5857): 1737-1742.
  • Hughes, T. P., A. H. Baird, D. R. Bellwood, M. Card, S. R. Connolly, C. Folke, R. Grosberg, O. Hoegh-Guldberg, J. B. C. Jackson, J. Kleypas, J. M. Lough, P. Marshall, M. Nyström, S. R. Palumbi, J. M. Pandolfi, B. Rosen and J. Roughgarden (2003). “Climate Change, Human Impacts, and the Resilience of Coral Reefs.” Science 301(5635): 929-933.
  • Ivanova, Elena V. (2009). Influence of the Thermohaline Circulation on Paleoceanographic Events in the South China Sea. The Global Thermohaline Paleocirculation (pp. 147-170): Springer Netherlands
  • Juinio-Meñez, M.A., Magsino, R.M., Ravago-Gotanco, R. et al. Marine Biology (2003) Genetic structure of Linckia laevigata and Tridacna crocea populations in the Palawan shelf and shoal reefs 142: 717. doi:10.1007/s00227-002-0998-z
  • Le Saout, S., Hoffmann, M., Shi, Y., Hughes, A., Bernard, C., Brooks, T.M. et al. (2013) Protected Areas and Effective Biodiversity Conservation. Science 342: 803.
  • Maeda K and Palla HP. (2015). A new species of the genus Stiphodon from Palawan, Philippines (Gobiidae: Sicydiinae). Zootaxa. 4018(3):381-95. doi: 10.11646/zootaxa.4018.3.3.
  • Muir, P.R., Wallace, C.C., Done, T., and Aguirre, J.D. (2015) Limited scope for latitudinal extension of reef corals. Science 348: 1135.
  • Rubite, R.R., Hughes, M., Blanc, P., Chung, K.-F., Yang, H.-A., Kono, Y. et al. (2015) Three new species of Begonia endemic to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Palawan. Botanical Studies 56: 19.
  • US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Retrieved from http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/…. Last edited June 24, 2016

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