Monday, June 14, 2010

Advanced Maps to Save the Davao Gulf Unveiled

by WWF - Philippines

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Fig. 1 / 123 - Incredible amounts of information can be accessed with a single click: land sat and land use maps illustrate the rich resources of the Davao Gulf, long-heralded as a bastion for marine life. (WWF-Philippines / Alfred Guab)

FOR centuries, maps have guided people's paths and actions. Recent technology now shows us how to save one of the most productive marine areas in Mindanao

With a shared interest to conserve the Davao Gulf's marine biodiversity and to promote sustainable development for local communities, WWF-Philippines and the Davao Gulf Management Council (DGMC) have conducted a comprehensive Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) mapping exercise to assess the gulf's sensitivity to oil spills, soil leaching and other environmental disturbances.

Funded by the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) and launched in 2007, the Davao Gulf ESI maps will serve as tools in land use planning, oil spill or marine pollution response operations as well as the proper use of agro-chemicals. Founded on the concept and methodology of ESI mapping, it examines two of the country's pressing environmental issues - oil spill incidence and the potential for groundwater contamination.

A Haven for Life

Davao Gulf ranks as one of the priority conservation areas of the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Eco-region. It is a breeding and nursery ground for small and large pelagic species, with frequent sightings of whale sharks, dugongs and leatherback turtles, among the list of species cited in the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).
Beneath the waters of the gulf lies a paradisiacal abode of brimming tropical marine species. Davao has long bragged of its coral reefs, making it a favorite among divers, tourists, investors, business opportunists, scientists and conservationists alike.

Beset by Pollution & Development

Sadly, the Davao Gulf is being threatened by the very economic activities it supports. Seen along the coast are ports, oil depots, factories and other capital-intensive industries that are perceived to exert pressure on the quality of the water, the natural habitats and the productivity of its fisheries.

Environmental exploitation by humans gradually surfaced as local communities sank deeper into crevices of poverty - an effect of a growing population. Fish yields decreased, leading many to adopt destructive fishing methods in order to survive.

A 2006 study revealed that less than 20% of the gulf's coral reefs remain in good condition. People are now pinning their hopes on the aquaculture industry, which produces seaweeds, milkfish and tilapia to compensate for ever-decreasing fish yields.

Pollution is another major menace: fertilizers and pesticides used by various plantations as well as mine tailings often contaminate groundwater and other bodies of water through run-off or leaching. Oil tankers and vessels traversing the gulf threaten it as well with the possibility of oil or chemical spills.

The gulf's myriad industrial plants also spew out sewage. Local wastes from communities plus oil sludge frequently place marine life in danger. Progress for the Davao Gulf usually means urban development - at great cost to the environment.

Says DGMC Chairman Leo Avila, "Over three million people in four cities and 18 municipalities live around the gulf: thousands rely on it for food and livelihood. Reduced productivity will have dire consequences so we should concentrate on protecting what assets remain."

Pioneering Tomorrow's Solutions, Today

Climate change is the most serious and pervasive threat to humanity. Amongst the most practical ways of dealing with it is to strengthen the resilience of natural resources - this means preparing Philippine coasts, mountains and cities for unexpected impacts, such as oil spills and floods.  

As a top ecological solutions-provider, WWF-Philippines has long pioneered ESI mapping for oil spills, developing the country's first ESI map in Batangas. WWF and the Philippine Coast Guard also conducted community-based oil spill response training and workshops for the Davao Gulf.

Further initiatives include a 'Going Green' campaign - a toolkit to encourage owners and operators of coastal businesses in the tourism sector to adopt sustainable practices, plus a competition to award businesses with environment-friendly management practices.

Says WWF Vice-Chair and CEO Lory Tan, "Technology has progressed at an astonishing pace: ESI maps can serve as vital tools to help us cope with climate impacts. If used properly, the maps we make today can protect the lives of thousands in the future."

The creation of comprehensive sensitivity maps for other vulnerable sites is now being considered to prepare the country not just for oil spills - but floods, storms and other telltale impacts of global climate change.

(WWF-Philippines Press Release)

For more information, please contact:

Abbie Ramos-Dumaup
Conservation & Research Mapping & Systems Development Head, WWF-Philippines

Gregg Yan
Information and Communications Officer, WWF-Philippines

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