Dr. Angel Alcala is PHL's biodiversity hero

Sunday, August 13, 2017 04:24 AM    Views : 566by:Jonathan L. Mayuga

In Photo: Dr. Angel Alcala, Philippine National Scientist and former environment secretary, receives the Asean Biodiversity Heroes recognition from the Asean Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), which awarded 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) advocates at ceremonies held at a hotel in Manila on Monday. With him are (from left) Philippine Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones; Vongthep Arthakaivalvatee, deputy secretary-general of Asean Socio-Cultural Community; ACB Executive Director Roberto Oliva; and Michael Bucki, climate change and environment counselor for Asean of the European .

‘People have the tendency to exploit natural resources a lot faster than its capacity to produce. This is not the way to go if we are to ensure sustainable production."

Thus, said Philippine National Scientist Angel C. Alcala, who was chosen as one of the 10 Asean Biodiversity Heroes by the Asean Centre for Biodiversity during its first awarding ceremony that gave recognition to outstanding biodiversity advocates, each representing the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) member-countries.

With the award, Alcala, who was the former Department of Environment and Natural Resources secretary from 1992 to 1995, became the first Asean Biodiversity Hero from the Philippines.

Alcala and the other awardees also received the Hyundai Icon for Biodiversity from Hari Foundation Inc.

Father of Marine Protected Areas

As a young biology student at the Silliman University, Alcala spent time doing research about marine biology where his passion for sustainable coastal marine resources all began.

Even at his young age, Alcala has shown passion for biodiversity conservation, helping coastal communities find ways to make their natural resources sustainable.

Nominated by Environment Undersecretary Ernesto Adobo Jr., for Administration, Finance and Management, Alcala is well-known for his pioneering advocacy in the establishment of marine-protected areas (MPAs) in the Philippines.

He established the Sumilon Marine Reserve in southern Cebu in 1974 and the Apo Marine Reserve in southern Negros in 1982. A dozen similar marine reserves in Bohol Sea were established because of his advocacy.

Alcala has also worked with various government agencies, local government units (LGUs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community-based organizations to strengthen the management of 60 similar "no-take" marine reserves in central and southern Philippines, particularly in the Bohol Sea.

The establishment of marine reserves protects marine ecosystem, enhances and promotes sustainable fish production in many areas.

Today, there are more than 70 national MPAs, 30 of which are predominantly marine reserves and 1,500 locally established and managed MPAs.

National Scientist

The Biodiversity Heroes' Award is a new feather added to his cap, as Alcala is already an accomplished scientist.

He was elected Academician to the Philippine National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in 2004.

In 2008 he was chosen as one of the 50 men and women of science in the Philippines for the period 1958-2008.

In September 2011 he received the Gregorio Y. Zara Award for Basic Science from the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science Inc.

Fittingly, NAST voted him to the Order of National Scientist in December 2013, and was proclaimed National Scientist by President Benigno S. Aquino III through Presidential Decree 782 on June 6, 2014.

Through his research, Alcala, along with his peers, added 50 new species of amphibians and reptiles out of the 400 known species in the Philippines. This gave international conservationists a reliable basis for establishing conservation programs on Philippine vertebrate biodiversity, conducting research since his days as a student in the mid-1950s, according to the profile prepared by the Asean Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), which organized the Asean Biodiversity Heroes Awards, the first of its kind to honor outstanding individuals who work on their sphere of influence for the protection and conservation of biodiversity in the region.

The subjects of his research during the early years were taxonomy and ecology of Philippine amphibians and reptiles supported by grants from the US National Science Foundation based in Stanford University and the California Academy of Sciences, of which he is an Honorary Fellow.

Alcala authored or coauthored more than 200 papers and books on Philippine herpetology, marine science, MPAs and biodiversity conservation in collaboration with noted scientists, like Dr. Walter C. Brown and Dr. Garry Russ.

A longtime professor and educator, particularly at Silliman University, Alcala, who eventually became its president for two consecutive years, founded the Silliman Marine Laboratory, which is later renamed as the Institute of Environmental and Marine Sciences), which is actively engaged in research on marine science.

True biodiversity hero

Director Theresa Mundita Lim of the DENR's Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) described Alcala as a true biodiversity hero

"Secretary Alcala is a National Scientist whose studies have greatly supported biodiversity-conservation efforts in the Philippines. He is an expert on Philippine reptiles and amphibians and is a strong pillar for MPAs. His contribution to biodiversity field research has led to the discovery of several new species," Lim said.

Inspiration for biodiversity champions

Interviewed by the BusinessMirror during the awarding ceremonies at a hotel in Malate, Manila, on August 7, Alcala lauded the organizers of the event for inspiring biodiversity champions to make a difference.

Such initiatives, he said, need the support of various sectors, particularly national and local governments, private sector, academe and NGOs.

"With the support of the private sector, national and local government and academic institutions, these initiatives will help protect and conserve biodiversity. Without support, it will not be sustained," he said.

He said everybody can be a biodiversity hero, and those aspiring to become one would have to get inspiration, support and advice from people with track record.

"They should work with NGOs, work with local government units, work with the communities," he said.

Fight overexploitation

Alcala said the private sector has a big role in biodiversity conservation.

"Everything in this world is reduced to business. The resources that are used for business will eventually be gone, extinct," he added.

"Our role is to inspire young people. The trend now is use and more use of our natural resources for commerce. That we have to stop," he said.

In fighting for the environment, he said threats, harassments and intimidations experienced by young environmental advocates should not stop them from pushing for biodiversity protection and conservation.

Invest in biodiversity

Everybody, he said, should invest in biodiversity because it is the key to human survival.

He likened investment in biodiversity to putting money in a bank. The capital, he said, continues to earn interest until the capital is withdrawn, hence, the interest stops, as well.

"There is no excuse. Biodiversity is capable of renewing itself. So what you do is like putting money in the bank, if you use that money, you lose. But if you improve that capital, then you earn more interest. If you take it away, then the production stops," he said.

According to Alcala, sustainable management of natural resources is a must, especially when most species are now going extinct.

"We must see to it that our exploitation is based on actual production without touching that capital," he added.

"Businesses can actually earn, benefit from biodiversity. You don't exceed the limit or the capacity of the resource to cover. The natural resource capital must be kept intact and only the production from that capital should be used," he said, citing the lessons in establishing MPAs.

"In establishing MPAs, you produce more fish and you use only the fish produced by the marine reserves.  The capital is left intact," he said.

Sustaining advocacy

According to Alcala, there must be no letup in biodiversity advocacy. Otherwise, he said the gains will be all for naught.

"People should continue to advocate, because they tend to go back to their old habits of over-exploitation. When there is a resource, they get it, they exploit it, until they are gone. I am against it," he said.

He warned that when people stop caring, they start to lose biodiversity—that leads to the extinction of one species after another.

"We will lose our biodiversity. It will lead to extinction. When it becomes extinct, that resource will never come back. That is why sustainability is needed."

He said biodiversity advocates should target their audience and employ social science, explain as a scientist. The problem lies in changing the way of life of people, particularly those who are largely dependent on natural resources around them.

"Overexploitation begins because of their way of life. You should teach the communities how to do it [protect biodiversity]. I demonstrated it. We did a research, we had experiments and we had showed them [ways to protect biodiversity]," he added.

Community support

In every endeavor to help the community, support of the people themselves is needed.

He said people in the communities would tend to ignore ideas, like his advocacy to establish MPAs.

"At first, they did not believe. But later, they realized it is true. You keep on hammering. Forest, marine [areas], [they have the] same principle. You have to prove it. Demonstrate it," he added, citing the case at Apo Marine Reserve, which is now a model of community-based coastal resource management in the country.

"Even in protected areas in land, it will work," he said.

He added that, for a successful biodiversity conservation project, the support of the people is needed. But, more important, the people will need a good leader to follow.

"We need the support of people who will lead the people," he said.

"That is why you have to work at various levels. Agencies of the government, policemen, soldiers can be good partners. Local governments or the leaders of communities can be good partners. People close to you, and other sectors, you have to involve everybody," he said.


S & T Trivia

" The inventor of the one-chip video camera was Marc Loinaz, a Filipino resident of New Jersey who works with Lucent Technologies. He was featured in the July 1999 issue of Discover Magazine. "

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