By Joseph Bernard A. Marzan
Local and international-based conservation groups made a public call in commemoration of International Dolphin Day today, Sept. 12, for the protection of the critically endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) subpopulation in the Iloilo and Guimaras Straits, which has been facing continued threats in the past years.
Youth-led conservation group Mangrove Matters PH and Earth Island Institute, an international organization promoting awareness and protection of marine mammals in the country, issued this statement on Monday, Sept. 11.
Earth Island Institute’s Regional Director for Asia Pacific Trixie Concepcion, highlighted the lack of action despite conservation and management plans being developed and proposed since the early 2010s.
“To date, there has been very little action in convening the management agencies and implementing the plans laid out by scientists to save the last remaining [Irrawaddy dolphins] of Negros. The dolphins continue to die on an average of one individual per year,” Concepcion said.
“For the last two years, three Irrawaddy dolphins have died, including a juvenile last 25 September 2020. Scientists estimate that there are only ten to thirteen individual Irrawaddy dolphins left in Negros Occidental. This kind of mortality rate is alarming given the very small number of Irrawaddys in Negros,” she added.
“There is a need to conserve dolphins as they perform important ecosystem services such as keeping fish populations in balance. The presence of dolphins also indicates a healthy environment as it would indicate the presence of fish. The extirpation of the [dolphins] in Iloilo and Guimaras is a huge loss for biodiversity and marine ecosystems in this area,” she stated further.
Marine biologist and Mangrove Matters PH founder Matthew Vincent Tabilog, noted how the proposed Panay-Guimaras-Negros (PGN) Bridge, which had been marked as a priority project by the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration, could lead to subpopulation’s actual extinction.
To this, Tabilog stated that there was a greater onus for the youth to be heavily involved in continuously calling for their protection.
Scientists based in Bacolod and the rest of Negros Island have repeatedly sounded the alarm since 2017 on the bridge’s threat to the subpopulation.
“The construction of the proposed Panay-Guimaras-Negros (PGN) bridge would ultimately affect the Irrawaddy Dolphins since its construction would produce noise pollution and these dolphins use echolocation to forage and navigate themselves and such loud noises could lead them to stress and potentially death. Furthermore, many have not seen the Irrawaddy Dolphins because they are so rare to find one and will the next generations be able to see one if these will go extinct?” Tabilog said.
“The youth should be involved in this campaign because this generation will suffer the long-term impacts of environmental degradation and we do not want to see a precious dolphin species go to extinction just because of anthropogenic threats. We, the youth, should take up spaces in conservation and demand the government to protect our remaining thriving biodiversity”, he added.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)-Western Visayas Regional Executive Director Livino Duran confirmed to the press in July that the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) of the PGN Bridge had recently been issued to address the threats to the dolphin species.
Duran likewise suggested that tourist activities could be done to help the subpopulation, which the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) stated was only at around 10 to 13 in 2018.
Daily Guardian had requested for the ECC from the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB)-Western Visayas since July, but their last update via phone call on September 6 indicated that it was still subject to approval for release by their central office.
A reply dated August 9, sent to Daily Guardian on September 5, indicated that the ECC had been granted since July 5, 2022, contrary to Duran’s pronouncement.
International Dolphin Day was created in 2022 by Sea Shepherd, a non-profit, marine conservation activism organization based in the United States, to mark the 1-year anniversary of the slaughter of 1,428 dolphins deaths in the Faroe Islands, as a reminder to keep calling for the protection of dolphins worldwide.