Migrations Stories Of Survival

Every year, Negros Occidental. They would stay from April to July, and their presence gives us a feeling of that beautiful summer by the beach with white oceanic birds circling above turquoise waters.

And when they leave, we know that the skies and seas will soon become grey and stormy as the Habagat grows stronger. I am always enthralled by how the arrival and departure of these birds could also match the ups and downs of our internal environments.

Since my last column I have been occupied with the theme of migration. The ecology and behavior of animals traveling long distances over periods of time are important elements to the story of our planet.

Migrations are large-scale and powerful transfers of energy and nutrients between major ecosystems. These are all happening around us, even making possible our sources of food and ways of life, while we, too, humans, migrate between countries and political boundaries.

As a modern human, it is now rare for us to be part of a big population moving together to settle in another place. Our ancestors had a taste of these epic journeys, but we are now limited to a family relocation or as an individual moving to another country for a job or scholarship.

So I can only imagine if I was a bird in a flock preparing to migrate, there would be an excitement in the air that would be so contagious and exhilarating. I imagine that in the animal world, these annual and seasonal migrations are festive and full of positive anticipation. A young bird joining in a flock migration for the first time may be told by her parents, Come on now, were going on an adventure!

Last week from the 23rd to 28th of October, the Philippines hosted the 12th Session of the Conference of Parties (COP 12) to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, also known as CMS or Bonn Convention, an intergovernmental treaty for the conservation of terrestrial, aquatic, and avian migratory species on a global scale.

CMS brings together the "Parties" or countries/states through which the animals pass during migration, and agree on legal and international measures to make sure their migrations are not hindered and that we are sustainably using their habitats or the animals themselves.

#ConservePHSharks: There is a cause to celebrate as the Philippines also successfully led this years move to enlist shark species in the Appendices of CMS, which is a list of animals the parties are obligated to protect by conserving and restoring their habitats, and reducing/controlling factors that further endanger these species. The whale shark and the wedgefish are now listed in the Appendix I of CMS, which means they will now better be protected across countries. Migratory species participate in multiple ecosystems separated by space and time making their ecological roles complex and important. The ecosystem services they provide across multiple habitats are sometimes immeasurable.

In hundreds of thousands, animal diaspora can support and regulate the biogeochemical processes that lay out the foundation of an ecology making life possible: Most common of these are soil formation, pollination, seed dispersal, water purification, pest control, carbon sequestration, and maintenance of biodiversity. An estimated one-third of global crop production is dependent on wild animal pollinators.

Also as vital are the provisioning services migrations provide to the growing of our food and needed materials ie. crops, fruits, water, meat and timber. On top of these, migrating animals also bring intangible benefits to our culture, recreation, heritage, and spirituality. For hundreds of years, annual arrivals of a flock of birds or herds of mammals announce seasons and culturally significant events.

The Negros Island has a wonderful story of communities, governments, and organizations working together for the habitats and passageways of migratory animals, recognizing their ecological, economic and cultural value. From Bago going south to Ilog is the Negros Occidental Coastal Wetlands Conservation Area (NOCWCA), declared as a Ramsar Site, wetlands of international significance.

The 10 LGUs sharing the jurisdiction of the NOCWCA formed a Management Alliance (NOCWMA) with the invaluable guidance of Provincial Environmental Management Office and the technical expertise of NGOs like the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc., academic institutions like the University of Saint La Salle, Carlos Hilado Memorial State College, and Central Philippine State University, and government agencies like the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Department of Tourism.

The story of NOCWCA continues to unfold, but it already tells us how Negrenses value our natural heritage. Two significant events also transpired last week: The unveiling of the first Ramsar site marker for NOCWCA in Kabankalan graced by Ramsar Senior Adviser for Asia and Oceania Dr. Llewellyn Young, and the Wetlands Bird Guiding Training organized by the Provincial Tourism Office with PBCFI and the Municipality of San Enrique for the local community members that will benefit from guiding skills needed to assist birdwatchers and guests to potential ecotourism programs in the area.

As migratory animals follow their natural cycles, and continuously move towards "greener pastures," there are migrations specifically caused by population imbalance and resource scarcity. Climate change is definitely the overarching force for significant changes in migration patterns.

I mentioned above that it was rare for populations of modern humans to move the same way migratory animals do, but we have seen this in times of war and disaster. It is chilling to imagine that in the future, it will be again common for humans to cross seas or desserts, as refugees of wars and natural disasters.

As we take care of the habitats and stops for migratory animals, we also have to deal with other "entities" entering the environment and moving with the currents of water and wind across the globe.

One of these is plastic waste that could take multiple human lifetimes to break down and in their journeys can suffocate migratory animals like turtles, cetaceans, and birds. This month in the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Summit held in Manila for 250 Asean youth, I facilitated a breakout session on Fish Not Plastic: Reducing Plastic Waste for Sustainable Fisheries as this issue is one of Aseans top challenges, with the statistics saying more than 50% of plastic now floating in our oceans come from five countries, three of which are Asean members: Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

We, humans, will one day fully see that the migrations happening around us and within our species, are indicators of our survival. We hope it is not too late.

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