Sunday, January 17, 2010

The safest place to be... Palawan but......

Those of us in the Philippine environmental science profession learn in undergraduate geology that Palawan is the most aseismic place in the whole country. For one thing, the island is a piece of the Eurasian continental crust that was ripped from the mainland as a result of the formation of the South China Sea more than 30 million years ago. Palawan is a continental island as compared to the other Philippine islands, which are called "oceanic" meaning their origin is from the oceanic crust. Volcanism built these islands.

In graduate school, we had to pass the master's level course on geological oceanography. I was fortunately under Dr Margaret Goud-Collins (who is now affiliated with Woods Hole) who had not a few class days devoted to how Palawan came to be. I fact the evolution of this island is linked with the evolution of the Sulu and South China Seas. Palawan is relatively aseismic since it is far from any plate subduction zone. In contrast the islands of oceanic Philippines are seismic since they are near these zones and as a consequence, are volcanic. But before Filipinos complain of the bad reputation, the islands came to be due to volcanism. There would be no Philippines without volcanoes. Filipinos depend on their very existence in the archipelago to volcanoes.

The final exam only had one question. How did Palawan form? If that sounded easy, think again. It took me more than three hours to hand in the examination paper!

Now comes the Philippine Daily Inquirer with its banner headline on Palawan. The reporters interviewed Dr Mahar Lagmay, one of our productive volcanologists having published many scientific studies on the discipline. While it is good that the public will have an idea of that scientific fact, we have to be more circumspect. Before we promote Palawan as the next real estate, "earthquake free" development destination, let us remember that

1) Palawan has a unique biodiversity from the rest of the Philippines
2) It is also the most forested island we have left
3) Palawan has also problems with resource extraction
4) Palawan also has a water problem (which is related to rapid population growth)
5) Palawan is home to several indigenous cultures one of which has preserved the traditional Philippine writing system.

With only about 682,000 people, (population density of around 47 per sq km) Palawan is the second to the least populated province in the Philippines. Only another geologically, ecologically and biologically distinct province, Batanes, beats Palawan in this category. Also Palawan is the largest province at 14,649.7 sq km.

If Palawan follows a development route that encourages migration to the island, the island's ecosystems may be stressed. As a continental island, Palawan's soils are less fertile than those found in oceanic Philippine islands. With an expected greater population, it is likely that the island cannot produce food more than what the present population requires. Ecosystem degradation in the Visayan islands have caused a lot of people to migrate to Palawan. The estimated population growth rate is close to 5%, with half of that attributable to migration. The lack of major rivers (since the island is so narrow, but long) and a distinct monsoonal climate contributes to the water problem.

Palawan thus is a threatened island ecosystem. What it least needs is the influx of uncontrolled real estate developments (with seasonal migrants from Metro Manila and other urban centers) which can contribute more to the water problem as well as the waste disposal problem. While tourism can and is a real cash earner for the island economy, this has to be balanced with the aim of maintaining ecosystem integrity. Palawan citizens are well aware of the risks and opportunities

I hope the Philippine Daily Inquirer counterbalances its banner headline with one specifically discussing Palawan's threatened environment. The ultimate ecological nightmare is that we could turn Palawan into another Boracay!

Ben Vallejo


Jesusa Bernardo said...

Palawan's the Philippines' 'Final Frontier,' final frontier that should be sealed and reserved for the country's raw and beauteous natural resources. Let it forever be a sanctuary of our endemic flora and fauna.

"Development," pls. stay away from Palawan. Perhaps, there should be a bill declaring Palawan a protected area for half a century or something.

Unless we can turn 'earthquake-prone' mainland Luzon back into a more forested state and make it the sanctuary instead....

AdB said...

Echo that a hundred times, JB!

Eco un-educated visitors should not set foot in Palawan. Opportunistic developpers should not be authorised to build anything in Palawan.

AdB said...

One of the major reason's why Haiti is so poor (from The First Post

The almost total deforestation of Haiti has added to the island's problems. In 1923, over 60 per cent of Haiti was covered by lush forests; in 2006, that had fallen to less than two per cent, thanks to the demand for charcoal, the main source of fuel in dirt-poor Port-au-Prince, and land for agriculture. This has led to soil erosion, desertification and floods.

So, can you imagine if people who have no respect for the eco system of Palawan "attack" Palawan?

Jesusa Bernardo said...

Something about Palawan's migration history:

19 January 1886 - Voluntary migration of natives to the Philippine island of Palawan is encouraged by a royal decree issued by the Spanish colonial king; incentives include exemptions from payments of tax and dues to public treasury, free passage, land gratis (three hectares), etc.