Saturday, 11 February 2012 00:00
Leaders of the Philippines’ most southern province of Tawi Tawi have raised an urgent call, which sent disturbing ripples nationwide, on climate change watchers and environmentalists.
The call, in the form of a plea, has been addressed to those who have the political will to save the island World, at the southwestern tip of the country, which has splashes of white sandy beaches and rock-bound coasts.
Not many know that Tawi Tawi, which has 107 islands and islets, sits at the center of the world’s biggest coral triangle. It shares the same seas with disaster-prone states Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomons and Timor Leste.
The area comprises the South Base of the world’s biggest enclave of marine life representing only two per cent of the world’s ocean but contains 76 per cent of the world’s marine biodiversity.
Most of the people in Tawi-Tawi belong to the Sama cultural group, which has sub-groups and named based on the location of the speaker: Sama Sibutu from the Sibutu-Sitangkai Island Group, Sama Simunul from Simunul-Manuk Mangkaw Island Group.
The Jama Mapun are largely found in the Cagayan Mapun and Turtle Island Group. Many of the people from the Turtle Islands and Cagayan Mapun maintain daily commerce with Sabah, since it is only 14 kms away.
The Badjao (also called "Sama Dilaut") are widely dispersed across the country’s southernmost province. It has been observed the Badjao population is diminishing due to diseases and migration to other areas in the Philippines as well as neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia.
There is little wonder that recently Rep. Nur Jaafar filed House Resolution 1919 which underlines the need to set up Tawi Tawi and its sinking islands and islets as a National Laboratory with Climate Change Commission.
The Resolution identifies the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources as lead agencies to undertake systematic monitoring of appropriate parameters.
The parameters must be raised with the use of scientific equipment for continued vulnerability assessment and piloting of mitigation and adaptation measures.
This is, as Rep. Jaafar said in his privileged speech, to check the Philippines “from becoming the next South Pacific archipelagic state to submerge and render its people refugees ... not to be in the same fate as the sinking of Carteret Islands, Papua New Guinea and Tuvalu.
Filipinos have taken pride in the fact that Turtle Islands in Tawi Tawi is one of only 16 birth homes of the Green Sea Turtles in the world.
But with the obvious sinking of the smaller islands with high tides reaching even the plateau that hides the nests, experts are concerned there may be little chance for the turtles to hatch which would result in the dwindling of the already endangered species.
Leakage from container vessels and the resulting dumping of toxic waste also pose serious pollution threats to marine biodiversity in Tawi Tawi.
This is similar to the danger level of dying reefs as coastlines recede and warming oceans initiate dreaded diseases in fishes as well as fish mutants.
Migratory paths of large pelagic fishes would change as they look for cooler waters. This broadens the migratory path and eats up the smaller fishes.
While Tawi Tawi has been known to be the seaweeds capital of the Philippines, 10,000 families producing 75 per cent of raw harvests of the country’s carageenan exports may face bleak prospects.
Tawi Tawi also takes pride as being the land below the wind. But that may not be for long since storm surges have destroyed houses and left thousands of people homeless.
There have been storm surges that reduced stilt houses to matchsticks, according to Rep. Jaafar. This means serious repercussions on the already diminished ancestral domain of the Sama, Tausug, Jama Mapun and Badjao tribes.
Jaafar asks, rather pointedly: “Where else could they seek refuge as the sea rises to claim their homes without destroying their traditions and livelihood as seafarers who live close to the sea on stilts?”
What climate change means is that the 307 islands and islets in Tawi Tawi may dwindle and shrink, making the stilt houses unable to survive the sudden rise of the sea.
Climate change observers say Rep. Jaafar is on track in calling for action now, not tomorrow.
According to them, it would be very pathetic indeed if Tawi Tawi, home to almost 500,000 people and an enviable wealth of flora and fauna, would be allowed to sink because there are other concerns, definitely less in urgency, high in the priority list of the authorities.
By Honor Blanco Cabie-PNA
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