The Palawan Biosphere Reserve is an island cluster made up of one long main island and smaller groups of islands surrounding it. The biosphere reserve's 1,150,800 hectares encompass the entire province of Palawan, the Philippines' westernmost province. | Photo and caption from UNESCO.org

The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) celebrated the first International Day of Biosphere Reserves, as declared by UNESCO, by highlighting the significance of the province as one of the country’s three biosphere reserves.

The event, which took place on November 3 at the Hue Hotel, showcased the country’s UNESCO biosphere reserves (BR) as well as their sustainability. The Sulubaaï Environmental Foundation and the UNESCO Man and Biosphere (MAB) Program Young Scientist jointly presented them.

The head of the ECAN Monitoring and Evaluation Division (EMED) of the PCSD Staff, Madrono Cabrestante, said that the first celebration will help stakeholders and locals learn more about Palawan as a biosphere reserve.

The term “learning places for sustainable development” best describes biosphere reserves. They serve as testing and evaluation grounds for different approaches to recognizing and managing changes and relations between social and ecological systems, such as conflict avoidance and biodiversity management.

“It is really meant to promote and help educate people that your place is a special place na you protect and conserve the environment, but also promote the development of the place. Laging balanse, hindi puwede na isa lang,” he said.

PCSDS also gave credit to the “Palawan Biosphere Sustainability Champions,” which are government agencies, non-government organizations, and institutions that have a stake in the matter. They were recognized for their efforts to preserve the planet, its people, peace, and partnership.

In 1990, UNESCO named Palawan, Puerto Galera, and Albay province as the three biosphere reserves in the Philippines. In its report, it said there are 714 BRs across the globe, spread across 129 countries and accounting for 5% of the planet’s total land area.

Cabrestante also stated that people continue to believe a biosphere reserve is a “no touch” zone, citing a study that revealed only 30 percent of locals are aware of the designation.

Because of this, he said that UNESCO is examining the possibility of revising the old terminology due to its “negative connotation” and may consider promoting it as a biosphere region. UNESCO’s BR concept is the coexistence between humans and nature.

2015 UNESCO review
According to the most recent review submitted to UNESCO MAB in 2015, the problems still confronting Palawan as BR are agricultural expansion and the continuation of illegal wildlife trade. He said the review is submitted to the UNESCO MAB every 10 years, with the next review scheduled for 2025.

Though a decline in reported acts is acknowledged, he emphasized the continued existence of problems that were not resolved as their causes were not thoroughly examined and instead, “bandaid solutions” were implemented.

“Bumabawas naman due to our efforts, bumabawas naman pero kailangan pa rin talaga natin tulungan ang mga munisipyo kasi sila ang frontliner na tigilan iyon. Isang problema na nakikita natin, why do people poach timber, bakit kailangan nila kumuha ng kahoy? Is because we don’t have a legal source of lumber,” he said.

“Ang mga problema kasi, hindi natin natitingnan ang root causes. Kahit saan parte ng mundo,meron nagiging problema ng kahoy, meron talagang nag-i-illegal. It’s because wala siyang legal source kaya nagiging illegal. You cannot cotrol people from using, kailangan talaga ng kahoy sa bahay dahil di talaga lahat ay mayaman,” he said.

Palawan as BR
The Palawan Biosphere Reserve is endowed with rich natural resources and highly diverse flora and fauna found in both land and sea.

UNESCO said that based on the IUCN classification, it possesses 105 of the Philippines’ 475 threatened species. An estimated 67 of the 105 threatened species are endemic to the Philippines, with Palawan accounting for 42 of the 67.

“Its coastal and marine ecosystems include coral reef (379 species of corals), seagrass meadow (13 species), and mangrove (31 species, distributed in 44,500 hectares of mangrove forests, the highest remaining mangrove cover in the Philippines). It also harbors several marine mammals such as marine turtles, dugong, and whale shark. The characteristics of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems are also diverse. It is composed of oldgrowth and secondgrowth tropical rainforest, karstic limestone, forest over ultramafic rocks, casuarinas and beach forest,” UNESCO said.

Before the province was named a BR, there was the Palawan Integrated Area Development Project (PIADP) that worked to improve the economy and the environment at the same time. Cabrestante said that Palawan was named a BR after taking into account its outstanding universal value (OUV), which includes its unique environment and culture.

He added that it also has to do with the OUV of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park and the Puerto Princesa Underground River, which strengthened Palawan’s designation as BR. With a 39% core zone, Palawan has one of the highest BRs globally.

The core zone, also known as the natural zone, is off-limits to human activity.

“Kung iko-compare natin sa other biosphere reserves worldwide, we are on better footing than the other biosphere reserves. But then of course, it’s a matter of implementing and sustaining na nagdeklara tayo ng 39 percent, sana ganon din magiging sincerity ng LGUs–dapat protektahan nila ‘yon,” he said.

After the declaration in 1990, the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) law, or RA 7611 was passed, said Atty. Irish Villamor-Dosado, Division Head of ECAN Education and Extension Division (EEED).

“The law came after the declaration. Two years after, kasi it was recognized na nga na Palawan ay may outstanding value, rich ‘yong environment, megadiverse ang lugar natin. After the declaration, to ensure na yong preservation and co-existence of nature and man ay matutuloy sya ay nagkaroo ng SEP law,” he said.

Dosado also mentioned increased tourism and expanded networking and partnerships with various organizations as benefits of Palawan as a BR.

The UNESCO MAB program has an international coordinating committee of 34 countries that deliberates on the applications of BR in various areas around the world.

Prior to deliberation, an applicant must submit all required documents, such as a zonation map, profiling, management plan, and management body, for evaluation by the MAB national committee and approval by the international MAB coordinating committee. The process takes two to five years.

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is one of the senior reporters of Palawan News. She covers agriculture, business, and different feature stories. Her interests are collecting empty bottles, aesthetic earrings, and anything that is color yellow.