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Scientist eyes fast-tracking race to save PHL's aquatic biodiversity

MANILA, July 12 – A marine science expert is recommending more academe participation in helping gather data authorities need to better protect biodiversity and ecological balance in the country's wetlands and inland water bodies.

"We must organize task forces in the academe to establish benchmarks and monitor ecology, carrying capacity and biodiversity there," Marine Science Institute professor Dr. Rhodora Azanza said Thursday.

She was presenting her paper on Day 2 of the National Academy of Science and Technology's 34th Annual Scientific Meeting in Manila.

She raised urgency for such action, noting latest available data from three of the country's major water sites indicate biodiversity resources there are declining.

Aquatic biodiversity means the variety of life and the ecosystems that make up the freshwater, tidal, and marine regions and their interactions.

Azanza identified three sites as needing protection: Laguna de Bay in Luzon as well as Lake Lanao in Lanao del Sur and Agusan Marsh, both in Mindanao.

Threats to the country's aquatic biodiversity are over-exploitation, pollution and habitat destruction,

At the same time invasive water plants that out-compete native species are reducing biodiversity and causing problems like flooding.

Illegal fishing practices are also posing serious threat to fish resources and aquatic biodiversity.

Available data indicate socio-economic pressures, denudation in surrounding forests and pollution are contributing to decline of biodiversity in those sites, Azanza said.

"Onslaught of invasive species further jeopardize the biodiversity pool there," she added.

She said more data must be available to help better implement the ecosystems approach to managing the country's wetlands and water bodies.

Biodiversity is part of the ecosystem and its decline and loss will affect ecological balance there, she noted.

For Laguna de Bay, the Philippines' largest lake, Azanza reported the presence of invasive species which continue threatening the survival of fish that traditionally live there.

Among such invasive species are janitor fish, spade fish and knife fish.

"Those species are impacting on Laguna de Bay's biodiversity," Azanza said.

She noted the knife fish's presence is particularly alarming since this specie is carnivorous and its population in the lake is increasing.

Lake Lanao's biodiversity is also reeling from onslaught of invasive species.

Data Azanza presented during the ASM show nearly 67 percent of fish catch there last year was dominated by an invasive goby specie.

"Three fish species in that lake are already becoming extinct," she reported.

Azanza also said data indicate a rising number of introduced species in the Agusan Marsh.

Agusan Marsh is one of the largest and the most contained freshwater catch basin wetlands in the Philippines. pThe main habitats of the marsh include freshwater swamp forest (49%), secondary scrub (14%), herbaceous swamp (7%), lakes, pools and rivers (10%), rice paddies and other agricultural land (6%), and small settlements (6%).

Azanza said the species in the Agusan Marsh include the invasive janitor fish.

ASM, a yearly gathering of scientists nationwide, provides a venue for discussing how science and technology can help the country move forward.

This year, ASM's focus is water. (PNA) hbc/CJT/utb

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