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DENR detects 142 'undiscovered' caves, sinkholes on Boracay Island.

Some 142 cave openings and several sinkholes have been detected by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) on Boracay Island, Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB) revealed at a stakeholders' forum for the declaration of a portion of Boracay as a critical habitat.

'Previously, the DENR is only aware of five caves on the island, and only three of them have been assessed and classified so far, but we later learned that there may be more. The MGB discovered that [there are actually more than] 142 cave openings,' she said.

The forum was held in connection with the proposed creation Boracay Island Critical Habitat (BICH), which will cover a total area of 750.96 hectares composed of 119.85 hectares of land and 631.107 hectares of marine areas in barangays Yapak and Balabag.

Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu is expected to sign the Department Administrative Order for the BICH after property owners expressed no opposition to the proposal, which aims to protect and conserve bats and marine turtles and their known habitats.

Crown-of-thorns

AT the same stakeholders' forum, dive shop owners expressed fear that funding for their program to battle crown-of-thorns infestation around Boracay Island will run dry.

Crown-of-thorns is a large, multiple-armed starfish that usually preys on hard, or stony, coral polyps. It is named so because of its venomous thorn-like spines that cover its upper surface, resembling the biblical crown of thorns.

Addressing DENR officials during the open forum for the BICH, Michael A. Martillano, president of the Boracay Business Administration of Scuba Shops, warned that crown-of-thorns are fast spreading in coral-reef areas around Boracay and dive shop owners, from the group's own fund, conduct activities to take out crown-of-thorns out of Boracay's waters.

'Our concern is the underwater environment. As mentioned before, there is an infestation of crown-of-thorns. We want to know what will be the program of the government, while Boracay is closed. We are doing this underwater cleanup and crown-of-thorns collection on our own. Of course, right now, the reason why we can do this is that it is funded by the association's own fund with the help of members. With this closure happening very soon, we don't know what will happen,' Martillano said.

While the government is doing rehabilitation on Boracay's forest, rehabilitation underwater should also be done simultaneously, he added.

'If the island is closed, of course, there are still divers who can do what we normally do, but we fear that we will run out of funds,' Martillano said.

He, likewise, urged the government to make known its plan in addressing illegal fishing in the area.

Undiscovered ecosystems

AN old map of Boracay also revealed that there are 12 wetlands on the island. But the latest satellite images produced by the DENR revealed that only nine could be located.

The map also showed that there are several sinkholes on the island.

The discovery of new cave openings by MGB came as part of the DENR's assessment of the island's terrestrial and marine ecosystems, which also calls for the further assessment of these potentially important ecosystems, Lim said.

A cave is a unique ecosystem within an ecosystem, she added.

The DENR, particularly the BMB, is mandated by Republic Act 9072 or 'National Caves and Cave Resources Management and Protection Act' to conduct cave classification for purpose of conserving and protecting cave resources, including cave-dwelling species.

Most caves are inhabited by unique species, like insect bats, insects, snakes, lizards and other reptiles.

'With the recent study of MGB, we discovered that there are 142 cave openings. That is why we must be more careful because development may cause these caves to collapse. On Boracay, we have previously classified a number of caves. Apparently, however, there are more caves than we previously thought of,' Lim added.

During previous cave assessments, three of the five caves reveal an assortment of species-some are unique to the caves, like cave crabs, Lim said.

'Some of these species cannot survive outside the caves. There are also sea snakes that dwell in caves,' she added.

Cave-dwelling bats, which are insect bats because they feed mainly on insects like mosquitoes, are different from bats that hang and sleep in trees but they provide ecosystem functions, especially in controlling the spread of mosquitoes that carry virus-like dengue and malaria.

'We need to learn more about the interconnectivity of these caves,' she added.

According to Lim, Boracay is rich in biodiversity. The forests on the island alone are already diverse, she added.

'Boracay is composed of several forest types. Our findings revealed that there are three forest types on Boracay. Mangrove forest, forest over limestone which can be found in the Northern part of the island, and beach forests,' Lim said.

Some of the trees in the forest over limestones are 50 to 100 years old, she added. These trees are unique and need to be protected, she said.

The forest over limestones on the northern part of the island has been identified as roosting sites of three species of flying foxes.

'Flying foxes are actually [help in] expanding [forests]. They migrate to travel to the mainland to eat. They eat and spread seeds. They are natural seed dispersers and they are responsible for expanding the forest in mainland Panay,' she said.

According to Lim, it is important to limit development and tourism activities in areas inhabited by Boracay's unique wildlife like the fruit and insect bats.

'While there is proof that bats and humans can coexist, it is also important to adopt environmentally responsible practices,' she said.
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Apr 12, 2018
Words:1061
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