Typhoon Odette (international codename Rai) devastated parts of the Visayas and Mindanao in December last year.
The typhoon, which nearly reached the supertyphoon category, caused severe and widespread damage, killing at least 409 people and damaging at least 39.3 billion pesos or $794 million.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration has declared that Odette falls under the “typhoon category” with its maximum sustained winds of up to 195 kilometers per hour, while the “supertyphoon” has maximum sustained winds of more than 220 km/h.
While Odette’s impact on people and the economy can be measured by the numbers, the same cannot be said for the ecosystems and all-important wildlife that are equally vulnerable to such a natural calamity.
Powerful typhoons like Odette that cause widespread destruction of forests, landslides and floods pose a serious threat to wildlife and humans alike.
Forests are home to both plant and animal fauna. Their ability to protect the country’s already endangered wildlife depends on their ability to withstand devastation.
A healthy forest ecosystem or coastal and marine habitat means that flora and fauna are safe and sound, even in bad weather. But for those living in an already damaged ecosystem, wildlife is still at risk.
No scientific study
The lack of empirical data, before or after the occurrence of such a natural calamity, is due to the fact that there are no in-depth studies on the impact of natural calamities on habitats and wildlife in the Philippines. .
The same could be said of its neighboring Southeast Asian countries.
In the case of the Philippines, an official from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said that due to limited resources, local government units (LGUs) are called upon to monitor the impacts of typhoons on wetlands. , caves and other ecosystems.
Anson Tagtag, Chief of the OIC Division of the Caves, Wetlands and Other Ecosystems Division of the Bureau of Biodiversity Management (BMB) of the DENR, said that when it comes to natural calamities, the wetlands and caves have a dual position.
Wetlands, for example, are considered a buffer for natural calamities, such as floods, Tagtag told BusinessMirror on January 18.
“Wetlands are pools of water and they are reservoirs of flood water. If these wetlands, like river systems, remain intact or maintained, they retain water [that help in] prevent flooding,” he said in a telephone interview.
On the other hand, Tagtag said when wetlands are already disturbed by humans, the ability of these ecosystems to retain water is compromised, leading to massive flooding.
The same can be said of caves.
“The dynamics of cave systems depend on the natural vegetation. If the vegetation at the top of the caves is already destroyed, water easily seeps into the ground, possibly affecting the caves below.
Important ecosystems are monitored by the DENR-BMB, but there is still no scientific study on the impact of a devastating typhoon, such as Odette.
As part of the DENR-BMB’s wetland management program, which aims to manage and conserve the most important ecosystems, Tagtag said the first step is to identify wetlands, carry out a physical assessment and know the ecosystem services they provide.
“We already have a map of wetlands in the Philippines, but due to limited resources, we are prioritizing what can be managed. Of course, we all want to manage them, because that’s our goal. But then we identify priorities that we can manage,” he said.
No impact study
Wetlands are sometimes subsumed in protected areas such as Lake Naujan.
Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary and all Ramsar sites are monitored, he said. However, there is no in-depth study of the impact of each disastrous event or natural calamity.
“I don’t remember if we have [an impact study of natural calamities]. In wetlands, we check and monitor. For caves, I mean managed caves, monitoring is done regularly,” Tagtag added.
“When there is a disruption, we are able to find out through monitoring through our partnership with LGUs. We have over 3,000 caves in the Philippines, but only about 700 are listed,” he explained.
He said the practical thing in monitoring important ecosystems is partnering with communities.
The conservation of ecosystems “a must”
Tagtag stressed the need to conserve wetlands, caves and other important ecosystems, saying their ability to cushion the impact of natural calamities and protect wildlife depends on their condition.
“If the rivers are silted, naturally their capacity is reduced. This causes flooding which can affect wildlife,” he explained.
“The best way to use natural resources is not to use them at all,” he said.
No targeted research on AHPs
Executive Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim of the Asean Center for Biodiversity (ACB) said that even in other countries there are no targeted research studies on the impact of natural disasters in the Asean Heritage Parks (AHP), which represent the best of the best of protected parks. regions of Southeast Asia.
However, Lim, a former director of DENR-BMB, said natural calamities always have a direct impact on natural ecosystems and wildlife.
Lim said there is a plan to conduct a study on the impact of natural calamities on a selected area and the wildlife that thrives in that area.
Not enough literature
The plan, she said, was conceptualized by ACB’s knowledge management chief, Dr. Arvin Diesmos, who previously worked for the National Museum of Natural History, but there wasn’t enough of literature as a basis for continuing the plan.
Nonetheless, Lim said that while this will likely have to be a long-term study, she said now is the right time to start, with CDA’s support.
“I think now is the right time to start and ACB can support such an initiative,” she said.
A matter of resilience
“But of course there is always an impact of these disasters on wildlife, on natural ecosystems. The question is how fast they can recover or if they can even recover at all. This is what we call ‘resilience’,” Lim told BusinessMirror via Messenger on January 17.
Lim said ecosystems that are still intact or healthy have the ability to recover faster.
On the other hand, she said that wild animals can always move to thicker growth to protect themselves from storm-battered areas, citing, for example, the movement from the eastern part to the western part of a large forest along the east coast.
Ensuring the ecological function
Lim said that when wildlife survives the wrath of natural calamities, they continue to fulfill their important ecological function, helping to restore forests, which are home to plant and animal wildlife.
“If pollinators and seed dispersers survive the wrath, they will continue to perform their ecological function and restore the forest in time for the next storm,” she explained.
“But as you know, the state of ecosystems accessible to humans is no longer so pristine, and so the range of wildlife to seek safety is already more limited than ideal,” she noted.
Compounding this, she added, is the frequency of natural calamities, “which makes them even more vulnerable”.
“But if we are aware of the thresholds, so we keep enough high-biodiversity protected areas to retain their ecological functions, then we not only have more resilient protected areas and wildlife populations, but also communities and infrastructure. more resilient,” she said. ended.
Picture credits: Wikimedia Commons