Amid shrinking catch and endless territorial disputes, hope keeps fishers afloat in the West Philippine Sea

In 2008, when Larry Hugo first ventured into the cerulean seas around Pag-asa island — 932 km southwest of the Philippine capital of Manila and known internationally as Thitu — he was stunned. Only a few hundred meters away from the shore, he found his outrigger boat already brimming with a wide array of fish. It was a haul enough to feed his small island community for a day. He sold it for P80 (US$1.60) per kilogram, primarily to military personnel stationed on the island.

READ MORE: Fishers on the Frontlines (oceansinc.earth)

Trafficking for traditional medicine threatens the Philippine porcupine

  • Endemic to the islands of Palawan province, Philippine porcupines are threatened by habitat loss and, increasingly, by black-market demand for bezoars: stony aggregations of undigested plant material that accumulate in their digestive tracts.
  • Bezoars are believed to have curative properties for diseases ranging from epilepsy to cancer, and experts say rising demand for bezoars threatens to make porcupines “the next pangolins.”
  • The Philippine porcupine, whose population size is unknown, also faces growing threats as its lowland forest habitat is cleared for agriculture and development projects.

READ MORE: Trafficking for traditional medicine threatens the Philippine porcupine (mongabay.com)

Banner Image: A rescued Philippine or Palawan Porcupine at the Katala Institute. Image by P. Widmann/ Katala Foundation.

Philippines’ new program to curb illegal fishing off to a rocky start

  • The Philippines introduced a new fisheries management framework to curb illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in 2019.
    Under the fisheries management area (FMA) mechanism, the Philippines’ seascapes are delineated into 12 areas with each co-managed by the country’s fisheries agency and a network of local governments.
  • The program has seen drastic delays in its implementation, with only six scientific advisory groups established out of the 12. Experts and various groups say the delay was in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw the reallocation of state funds, and a lack of action from local mayors.
  • Amid the slow rollout of the framework, artisanal fishers say they are threatened by a new bill in Congress that seeks to allow domestic commercial vessels within municipal waters, a practice that is banned under the prevailing fisheries law.

READ MORE: Philippines’ new program to curb illegal fishing off to a rocky start (rappler.com)

BANNER IMAGE: A commercial fishing boat at night in Coron, Palawan. Image by Ouie Sanchez/USAID

Illegal logging in Philippines’ Palawan stokes fears of a mining resurgence

  • Since November 2020, Indigenous people have observed trees that have been illegally felled within a mining concession in southern Palawan, an island in the western Philippines.
  • The forests are sacred to the Indigenous Pala’wan people, who have for decades fought against plans to mine the area.
  • Against the backdrop of loosening restrictions on mining both nationally and locally, Pala’wan leaders and local NG0s say the logging could be a precursor for a resurgence of mining.
  • The concession holder has denied any link to the illegal activity, while the government’s mining agency has said it wasn’t done at the company’s initiative.

READ MORE: Illegal logging in Philippines’ Palawan stokes fears of a mining resurgence (mongabay.com)

Popular opposition halts a bridge project in a Philippine coral haven

  • The Philippine government has suspended work on a bridge that would connect the islands of Coron and Culion in the coral rich region of Palawan.
  • Activists, Indigenous groups and marine experts say the project would threaten the rich coral biodiversity in the area as well as the historical shipwrecks that have made the area a prime dive site.
  • The Indigenous Tagbanua community, who successfully fought against an earlier project to build a theme park, says they were not consulted about the bridge project.
  • Preliminary construction began in November 2020 despite a lack of government-required consultations and permits, and was ordered suspension in April this year following the public outcry.

READ MORE: Popular opposition halts a bridge project in a Philippine coral haven (mongabay.com)

Banner image of a coral garden in Coron, Palawan by Shawn Landersz via Flickr.

Surge in seizures of giant clam shells has Philippine conservationists wary

  • Philippine authorities seized 324 pieces of giant clam shells weighing a combined 80 tons in the province of Palawan on March 3.
  • The seizure brings to more than 150 tons the amount of giant clam shells confiscated from traffickers in the past six months in Palawan, the only place in the Philippines where the remaining original wild species was found.
  • Giant clam shells, virtually extinct in the Philippines just a few decades ago and brought back through repopulation efforts, are heavily poached as a replacement for ivory, with China as the biggest export market.
  • With little data on the poaching of giant clams, it’s hard to say if the trend is driven by the pandemic-triggered lockdown, experts say, but the increase in seizures shows enforcement measures are paying off, they add.

READ MORE: Surge in seizures of giant clam shells has Philippine conservationists wary (mongabay.com)

On a Philippine mountain, researchers describe a ‘fire flower’ orchid species

  • A new wild orchid species, Dendrochilum ignisiflorum, has been described in the Philippine province of Benguet in the northern Cordilleras mountain range.
  • This fiery orange orchid belongs to a genus found in high-elevation forests in Southeast Asia, particularly in the Philippines, Borneo and Sumatra.
  • The scientists who described it say the species is threatened by climate change, which could make its niche range uninhabitable.
  • The mountain where it’s found is also an increasingly popular tourist spot, while the forests in the area around it are being cleared for agriculture.

READ MORE: On a Philippine mountain, researchers describe a ‘fire flower’ orchid species (mongabay.com)

In bid to protect a Philippine pangolin stronghold, little talk of enforcement

  • Provincial and municipal authorities on the Philippine island of Palawan are drawing up management plans aimed at boosting protection for the Victoria-Anepahan Mountain Range, a key habitat of the Philippine pangolin.
  • The 165,000-hectare (408,000-acre) is not a formally protected area, and suffers from deforestation driven by illegal logging, as well as massive poaching and illegal trade of its wildlife, including pangolins.
  • The critically endangered Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis), found only in Palawan, is one of the most trafficked animals on Earth, with its population declining by up to 95% between 1980 and 2018.
  • Critics of the management plan say it will be a bureaucratic waste of resources without efforts to step up enforcement measures to curb the illegal trade of pangolins and other wildlife in the mountain range.

READ MORE: In bid to protect a Philippine pangolin stronghold, little talk of enforcement (mongabay.com)

Illegal plant trade, tourism threaten new Philippine flowering herbs

  • Scientists have described a new ornamental plant species in the biodiverse region of Palawan, a province in the western Philippines.
  • The new species, Begonia cabanillasii, is the 25th begonia species found on the island and the 133rd recorded in the Philippines.
  • Begonias are flowering perennial herbs popular in the ornamental plant trade. The new species grows in a shady and rocky undergrowth habitat in Palawan and is assessed to be critically endangered.
  • The illegal plant trade and tourism, a driver of deforestation in the province, pose the biggest threat to this new plant species and other Palawan-endemic flora, researchers say.

READ MORE: Illegal plant trade, tourism threaten new Philippine flowering herbs (mongabay.com)

Gray areas and weak policies mar lucrative Asian trade in live reef fish

  • High demand for wild-caught reef fish from Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia to stock upscale restaurants in East Asia could be driving overfishing and depletion of fish stocks, export trends indicate.
  • To ease the strain on wild fish populations, countries started adopting fish-farming practices in which they raise wild-caught grouper species in pens — a practice that is far from sustainable, a marine expert says.
  • Government attempts to regulate the trade by imposing size limits and closed fishing seasons have largely fallen short, experts say.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest in Hong Kong, the prime market for the live reef food fish trade, have driven demand down, providing a window to aid the recovery of species like the leopard coral trout.

READ MORE: Gray areas and weak policies mar lucrative Asian trade in live reef fish (mongabay.com)