February 2 is World Wetlands Day


World Wetlands Day is commemorated every second day of February to mark the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance in Ramsar, Iran on February 2, 1971.  Also known as the Ramsar Convention, it aims for “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world.”

Ramsar

Over 98 countries around the world participate in various events. Government agencies, non-government organization, and groups of concerned citizens from all walks of life conduct lectures and seminars, nature walks, children’s art contests, community clean-up days, and other related activities to raise peoples’ awareness on the value of wetlands and its benefits.

This year, 2015, the program highlights the theme, “Wetlands for our Future”, to focus on the necessity of raising people’s awareness on the values of wetlands to the future generations and its importance to sustainability.

photo contestAmong the various programs lined up for this year’s celebration is a photo contest among young people 15 – 24 years old.  So, if you are fond of taking selfies, here’s an opportunity to take your personal interest to a higher level.

What exactly are wetlands?

Why should we give them so much importance? Wetlands are land areas that are seasonally or permanently covered by shallow water.  They play a very significant role in our ecosystems because they serve as home to several wildlife species of amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, crustaceans, and fish. These lands provide bountiful nutrients and water to animals; make a safe refuge for many animals and plants during hot seasons, especially during droughts, and; they accommodate nurseries for fish and migratory birds.

Wetlands are also capable of improving the quality of water and the general state of the drainage basins.  When water passes through a wetland, pollutants like silt, nitrates, and pesticides that are carried with it are purified, controlled, and broken down by the bacteria found in the soil or by the vegetation in the wetlands.  Thus, preventing harmful chemicals from going farther into the ocean.

In addition, wetlands provide mankind several socio-economic and environmental benefits, such as:

  • protect people and their properties from natural disasters, like raging storm waters, wind, landslides, and erosion
  • significantly slow down the effects of global warming by keeping greenhouse gases away from the earth’s atmosphere
  • prevent excess water from getting inland, which can pose threat on land use activities

There are a number of ways by which you can participate in the World Wetlands Day commemoration.  Most likely, there is a community in your area that organizes events for this purpose.  Or, you may even want to initiate a project in your locality.  Ramsar Convention would be willing to provide you with the materials you need.

Last year, 2014, the theme “Wetlands and Agriculture” emphasized on the need for the wetland, water, and agriculture sectors to work together for the best shared outcomes. While the 2013 event focused on “Wetlands and Water Management”.

Will we have enough fresh water by next century?


Water is a renewable resource.  But there is a danger that we might not have enough supply by the 21st century because of over-extraction and possible contamination of aquifers. If we mismanage the natural systems that provide us with fresh water, we will be making water unsustainable in the long run.

You might find me ridiculous when I say we might run out of water by the 21st century. What I’m referring here, though, is clean potable water.

hydrologic cycleYes, it is true that the earth is literally a world of water.  We use it in so many ways.  It is more than just a drink.  We use it for agriculture, for industry, and for energy.

Also, water is a renewable resource in the sense that it is powered by the sun, which vaporizes water from the oceans and other different bodies.  Through gravity, the vaporized water cycles and falls back to earth as precipitation.  Some of these water come as rain or snow.

However, worldwide precipitation is not the same in all parts of the world.  Some regions are water-rich in the sense that they get enormous fluxes, or flows, of water; while some places are water-poor, where they get low fluxes.  There are also places where there is a significant stock of water.

aquifer

Fresh water

There’s also another huge resource of water – underground, or in what we call aquifers. We tap into this source of fresh water for use in agriculture, energy, industry, or for human consumption. The water we extract from aquifers gives us a sense of how much water we can sustainably use each year.

We know that the stock of water underneath the ground takes a very long time to accumulate.  In some areas, aquifers are even thousands of years old.  If we just use fluxes for our different needs, we would not encounter major sustainability problems, since the water we take out would be replenished each year.  However, sustainability issues can come in when we take out too much water from these sources faster than it gets replenished.

Agriculture is the single major user of water worldwide.  Water loss during agricultural processes is so much more of a problem than water loss in the home. But I’m not saying, either, that it’s all right for us to not conserve water domestically. What I mean is that domestic use of water is just a small part of total use, and it is often highly treated, making it a special case of water.

Large countries, like China and India, are known to have been over-extracting fresh water for their intensive agriculture, as well as for consumption of their huge populace. Other countries and regions, too, have reached a dangerously low water tables and are experiencing water stress.

Water stress

This concerns the water in the natural system, or that which is part of a hydrologic cycle. Water stress refers to the amount of water required to make a product.

The illustration below shows the amount of irrigation water, or embedded water, used to produce common consumer products.  A cup of coffee, for example, requires about 200 liters of water to produce.  How does it happen?

savewater

Well, computation starts from the growing of the coffee plant itself.  To cultivate coffee, you’ll need a lot of precipitation and irrigation before the beans were ground up, and brewed. So that’s how we come up with the 200 liters to make a cup of your favorite drink.

Now, the processing and production of coffee is done and brought to supermarket shelves. You bought a pack of that coffee and prepare it at home.  Then you add about 250 milliliters of water to dissolve your coffee.  Obviously, you didn’t use as much water on it as the agricultural processes did. This is what I mean by domestic use of water is so much less than what is used for agriculture.  The same holds true in the production of the other products listed in the illustration, as well as in the manufacture of a car, or an aluminum can.

Water pollution

Another threat to water is pollution. Water pollution contributes much in the scarcity of clean water in the world today, making it unsustainable. Scientists even predict that we might be facing severe shortage of fresh water by the 21st century if we don’t properly manage what we have at present.

Water can be polluted in so many ways. Both industrial and agricultural processes can pollute the water sources. When an aquifer is polluted with heavy metals or organic compounds that cause cancer, that resource can no longer be used.

So, if we truly value the natural world, we must minimize the total amount of water that we extract, so that the natural systems will constantly have enough to provide us with.

Organic clothing for a healthier lifestyle


You don’t have to be an activist marching on the streets shouting for radical change, but you can make a subtle statement with the clothes you wear.  By choosing organic clothing, you can show your love for Mother Earth, as well as promote your own healthy lifestyle.

cloths

To be a fashionista is one thing, to be conscious about wearing what can be safe to the environment is another.  Although, you can be a fashionista with organic clothing, as eco-fashion is now an increasing trend.

When we say organic clothing, we refer to the materials produced from fibers that are raised in or grown naturally in compliance with organic agricultural standards. These materials are not treated with synthetic chemicals.  Instead, farmers who grow them use only natural methods to manage soil quality, diseases, pests, and other farming problems.

Among the most popular organic fabrics produced and available in selected outlets include organic cotton, organic linen, jute, silk, ramie or wool, tencel, hemp, bamboo, pineapple, banana, leather, and organic recycled fibers.

Admittedly, though, clothes made from any of these fabrics may cost higher than those made from synthetic or conventional materials.  But, beyond the cost are tremendous benefits both for your skin and for the environment.

hemp fiber
hemp fiber

Hypoallergenic. Organic fibers are hypoallergenic and do not contain pollutants, chemical-based dyes, resins, or formaldehyde, irritants that can trigger dermatological conditions and other allergic reactions to users.

Bamboo clothing, for example, is naturally antimicrobial, anti-fungal, anti-static, UV protective, flexible, and softer than silk when spun into yarn. It also absorbs sweat very quickly, keeping the wearer feeling dry and comfortable.

Bamboo-made clothes are oftentimes called ‘clothes that caress’ because of its softness and skin-friendly quality.

Toxin-free.  Organic clothing are free of toxins because they are grown using only natural fertilizers, compost and soil amendments, and natural methods of controlling pests.

Safe to human and animal health.  Since organic farming does not use toxic and chemical-based herbicides and pesticides, it is safe to farmers, farm workers, employees, as well as to the larger community around the farm.  Animals are also free from the effects of harmful chemicals.

Environmentally friendly. Not only is it safe to human and animal health, but organic farming also enriches the soil to its full potential, and rehabilitates those portions that have been damaged by too much chemical content. The nitrogen compounds from fertilizers, for example, enter the atmosphere and contribute much to global warming.  Excess nitrates percolate through the soil and contaminate both surface and groundwater sources.

organic cotton
organic cotton

On the other hand, organic farming takes around 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per acre per year from the atmosphere.  And, this means a lot!

Organic cotton farming alone produces considerably less carbon dioxide emissions, and uses up to 60% less water than conventional farming methods.  Likewise, all natural fabrics are biodegradable, making it easy on the environment.

Durable.  You would be pleasantly surprised to know that organic clothes are durable.

Hemp, which is perhaps the most durable of all natural fibers, is more porous than cotton and can last for years.

Meanwhile, tests show that an organic cotton or bamboo-made clothes can last over a hundred machine washes before its fibers begin to break apart.

Because of its durability, you are assured that organic clothes are more economical in the long run.

Superior quality.  The pineapple or piña fabric, for example, which is often used in wedding dresses, gowns, and other formal attire may look simple but it exudes a natural elegance.  It has a natural shimmer that it no longer requires synthetic finishing treatment. Many fashion designers even use it to clothe celebrities and personalities.

Organic cotton, on the other hand, has a natural wax that keeps it smooth.

Hemp is also antimicrobial, mold-resistant, UV and UVB rays protective, and keeps its user dry.

In other words, organic fabrics are far more superior in quality than its synthetic counterparts.

Organic clothing has gradually entered into the mainstream fashion; although, many department stores worldwide are yet to carry this line.  But with the increasing people’s awareness about climate change, global warming, and sustainability, it would not take very long for people to adapt to this kind of lifestyle.

organic tablecloth
organic tablecloth

Other uses

Aside from clothing, natural fabrics also make good material for bed sheets, table linens, handkerchiefs, bags, mats, fans, and other useful materials and novelties.

Few disadvantages

Just like in any other products, organic clothing has also its own disadvantages.  Although, these can be remedied with proper care.

  • Since organic linen is not treated with anti-wrinkle chemicals, it has the tendency to break with constant creasing, especially along the collar and hem parts of the garment.
  • As mentioned earlier, organic clothing are more expensive than its conventionally-manufactured counterpart.  That is, if you don’t consider its long time benefits.
  • Not every country imposes specific standards or laws regarding organic clothing. That’s why it can be possible that manufacturers can mark its items as organic even if it contain non-organic chemicals.

The importance of coral reefs


Coral reefs are among the most diverse underwater ecosystems in the world. Kept together by calcium carbonate structures, they are made up of colonies of tiny animals and several other creatures called polyps, fish, and plants.  Coral reefs are home to a significant number of all marine life, making them worthy of preservation and protection from external elements.

USS Guardian hitting Tubbataha Reefs
USS Guardian hitting Tubbataha Reefs

On January 17, 2013, the US Navy minesweeper, USS Guardian, hit and destroyed 2,345.67 square meters of the South Atoll of the Tubbataha Reefs, causing outrage and worries among many people, especially among environmentalists.

Importance of coral reefs

But why exactly did it draw so strong a reaction from several sectors all over the world? What is in the coral reefs that we should be concerned about?

More than being an eco-tourism destination and beautiful dive spots, the Tubbataha Reefs and all other coral reefs in the world have a lot more to offer to mankind than what satisfy the eye and make the coffers busy.

coral reefsHome to several species.  Coral reefs are among the oldest and most diverse ecosystems on planet Earth that support and provide an irreplaceable sources of food and shelter to about two million marine species, as well as a fourth of the ocean’s fish.  It serves as the foundation for complex food webs: from the little herbivorous fish to huge predatory ones – from lobsters, octopus to sea turtles and dolphins.  All of these marine creatures find food as well as protection in the reefs.

In fact, each of these animals plays a significant role in the reef ecosystem in different ways, such as filtering water, consuming prolific algae, or keeping a particular specie under control.

Barrier from storms and waves.  These marine structures are also called barrier reefs because of their ability to shield shorelines from storms, floods and surging waters, even as they slow down  waves before it reaches the shore.  Because of this, coral reefs protect people living near the coasts, ports, and other properties and economies along coastal areas.  

Breakwaters may serve as good barriers from tsunami surge, but they are far more expensive to repair and maintain; whereas, healthy coral reefs regenerate by itself. Coral reefs protect other ecosystems such as the seagrass beds, mangroves, and coastline wetlands.

Backbone of local economies.  Since healthy coral reefs are home to many fish, they can provide abundant fish to support subsistence fishermen, as well as make commercial fishing companies thrive.

Also, the corals’ unique beauty, vibrant colors, and formations attract tourists, which consequently promotes other businesses to develop around the area. Restaurants, hotels, dive centers and other businesses can thrive due to tourism, generating jobs among local peoples and income to the communities in the process.

Source of medicine.  According to The Nature Conservancy, many coral reef species have been found to produce chemicals like histamines and antibiotics, which are useful in medicine and science.  Hence, there is a potential for coral reefs to be the source of many new medicines.  In fact, medicines are now being developed for the treatment of ailments like heart diseases, Alzheimer’s, cancer, arthritis, viruses, human bacterial infections, and other health conditions.

According to some surveys, around seventy five percent of the world’s coral reefs are in danger of destruction due to both local and global pressures caused by certain factors like destructive fishing practices, over-fishing, coral mining, careless tourism, inland and marine pollution, sedimentation, and climate change.

Tubbataha

How to protect coral reefs

What, then, should we do to protect the coral reefs?  Here are some easy steps:

  • Observe safe and responsible diving and snorkeling by not touching the corals or setting your boat’s anchor on the reef. This is to prevent damage on the fragile coral animals.  Anchoring on the reef can only kill the corals.
  • Refrain from or discourage fishermen from using dynamite in fishing.  Be vigilant about illegal fishing practices in your area.  If you cannot talk them out from doing so, report them to your local authorities and demand that they take action to protect coral reefs, put an end to sewage pollution of our ocean, and broaden marine protected areas.
  • Conserve water.   Even if you live farther from the shore, your runoff and waste water still reaches to the sea, eventually.  Therefore, the less water you consume, the less runoff and waste you send to the ocean.

marine garbage

  • Dispose of your garbage properly.   Any kind of litter pollutes the water and can destroy the reef and its inhabitants.  If you are a fisherman, do not leave unwanted fishing lines or nets in the water or on the beach.  Sea creatures can get entangled in them.  They can also get trapped in plastic bottle rings, rope, wires, and other garbage. They may even swallow the plastic, mistaking it for food.  Eating plastic can poison marine creatures or cause them other health problems.
  • Help in the coral reef cleanup
  • Reduce pollution by walking, riding a bike, or taking a bus for transport.  Fossil fuel emissions from vehicles and industry increase ocean warming, which consequently cause the mass-bleaching of corals and destruction of the reefs.
  • Make it a habit to use organic fertilizers in your garden or farm to prevent contamination of the water systems, which eventually flow into the ocean and pollute coral reefs and marine life.
  • Plant trees to lessen runoff into the ocean
  • Advocate reef-friendly businesses

Most of all, encourage your family, friends, and associates to get involved in helping to protect the coral reefs and the marine ecosystems.


Poor leadership, planning, and series of errors led the US Navy Minesweeper USS Guardian to hit and damage 2,345.67 square meters of a protected Philippine reef on January 17, 2013.  Reports have it that both the Guardian’s leadership and its crew neglected protocol, warning systems, and visual cues.  They were also unable to reconcile the differences between navigation maps, causing the ship to run aground on the South Atoll of the Tubbataha Reefs in the Sulu Sea. The tragedy has consequently angered not only the Filipino people, but also the international communities.

Tubbataha 2

Philippine pride

The Tubbataha Reef, declared by former Philippine President Corazon Aquino as a national marine park, is abundant in marine life.  Positioned in the middle of the Sulu Sea, Tubbataha is isolated and far from habitable land; thus, preserving its marine resources from exploitation.

In December 1993, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized Tubbataha a World Heritage Site.  It is now under the protective management of the Philippine Department of National Defense, with technical supervision from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Likewise, the Ramsar Convention acknowledged and listed the reef among the Wetlands of International Importance due to the presence of a wide range of marine life species as well as being an essential habitat for various animals.

Since its discovery by divers in the late 1970s, the Tubbataha Reef National Park has been listed among the remarkable must-visit diving destinations in the world.  In fact, CNN Travel ranks it eighth of the top 50 dive sites in the world.

Tubbataha was also featured on the reverse side of the 2010 series of the One Thousand peso bill.

Reef destruction due to human error

The USS Guardian is actually not the first ship to hit the Tubbataha Reefs.  It should be recalled that on October 31, 2005, the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, struck and destroyed around 100 square meters of the reef.

Greenpeace blamed the accident on the Philippine government for allegedly providing them with inaccurate chart. Nevertheless, the non-government environmental organization paid a fine of about $7,000 for the damage.

Likewise, on April 8, 2013, a Chinese fishing boat, F/V Min Long Yu, got stuck approximately 1.1 nautical miles to the east of the reef’s ranger station. The boat carried 12 crew members, believed to be engaged in illegal fishing.

Aside from ships running aground, marine resources in and around Tubbataha Reef are fast depleting due to destructive fishing, such as the use of dynamite and cyanide. Opportunism and carelessness of some visitors is another issue. Killing of marine turtles; illegal collection of turtle eggs, bird eggs, and shells, and; the irresponsible attitudes of tourists and businessmen towards the park still persist.

The future of Tubbataha Reef

Accidents do happen anytime anywhere no matter how we draw measures to prevent it. While government agencies and active non-government environmental groups implement rules and guidelines, the responsibility to protect our world heritage does not solely fall on them.  As individual citizens of the world, we can tremendously help safeguard Tubbataha Reef, in particular, as well as all other coral reefs, in general.

The USS Guardian tragedy has somehow initially opened the eyes of an increasing number of people, albeit painfully, about the value of coral reefs to economy and the environment.  It is important, then, that we sustain such awareness with active participation in the preservation of what is left of the reefs.

Diver

There are actually several ways to help protect our coral reefs.  But since the Tubbataha Reef is a wonderful diving spot, I’d like to list down some pointers on how divers, snorkelers, and tourists can help preserve our coral reefs.

  • Buoyancy control. Ensure that you are properly weighted, and observe buoyancy control to avoid damaging anything.
  • Keep a safe distance from the corals and other marine life.  Aside from getting a painful scratch from a coral, you might damage or kill fragile coral polyps.
  • Refrain from touching any marine creature and do not wear gloves.  Divers who wear gloves may tend to touch marine life.
  • Do not block the path, or chase after any free-swimming animal.
  • Restrain your urge to collect any item from the ocean or the beach.  Note that even dead corals and shells can be home to other marine organisms.
  • Do not disturb the sand.  Sand and sediment can get on the living corals and might smother it.
  • Dispose of your garbage properly and collect any litter you find in or out of the water.

The blues of New Year celebrations


limb gone 1
The price one has to pay for lighting firecrackers.
What a tragedy!

Seven-year-old hit by stray bullet

Boy killed, over 400 hurt in Philippine revelry

Year after year, these are the typical scenario in many areas, and the “expected” headlines in most news programs, during New Year celebration in the Philippines.  At the height of merrymaking and noise, someone has to mourn and some have to squirm in pain!

Filipinos are fond of lighting firecrackers to greet each new year, and each new year, too, is not without wailing among those who get hurt, and among the mourning individuals who suddenly have to lose loved ones to stray bullets or strong pyrotechnics.  The Department of Health (DOH) is not short of giving reminders and warnings about the dangers of firecrackers.

But who listens, anyway?

Does it have to be always like this on New Year's Eve?
Does it have to be always like this on Christmas and New Year’s Eve?

Well, many of those who experienced losing a limb, or more, have refrained from using firecrackers.  But some are still adamant about giving up the dangerous habit of lighting illegal firecrackers during the Christmas and New Year seasons. For them, the stronger the blast, the merrier – for as long as they are not the victims, that is!  The trigger happy are even  not content with the strongest firecrackers available. They rather opt to use real firearms.  For what? Only they know what their real motives are.   These are the individuals who do not care for themselves, for others, and for the environment, at all! What else could be done to awaken these people’s hearts and minds about the dangers of firecrackers?

Nevertheless, just like the DOH that keeps on repeating year after year its call against the use of dangerous pyrotechnics, let me also share with you the impact of firecrackers on humans, animals, and the environment.

fireworks illegal
Fireworks may seem fun, but…
  • The smoke produced by firecrackers are highly detrimental to human health and the environment, specifically because these contain chemicals, such as: copper compounds, which cause irritation to the respiratory tract; lead, which can severely affect the nervous system; zinc, which can cause metal fume fever and induce vomiting; sodium, and; cadmium.
  • The green color effects generated by pyrotechnic displays are due to its barium content, which is actually radioactive and poisonous; while the blue color effects is generated by the copper compounds, which contain dioxins – chemicals associated with cancer ailments.
  • Its smoke can trigger asthma and other sensitivities.  Even the smoke of the smallest sparklers and torches can severely affect the respiratory tract of young children.
  • Firecrackers causes air pollution. When inhaled, the smog from pyrotechnic displays, may cause respiratory ailments among humans.
  • Irresponsible use of fireworks and firearms pose threat to the people using them as well as the innocent members of the public. The headlines in most, if not all, newspapers, radio, and TV news on New Year’s Day can prove this.
  • Children are more than ten times likely to get hurt by firecrackers.  Most often than not, these children are not really directly involved in the lighting of firecrackers.  Based on the accounts of adults whose children are brought to hospitals for treatment, these kids were just playing nearby or have innocently picked up  undischarged pyrotechnics.
  • Not only does it hurt the young, but firecrackers can even cause harm to adults, especially to those who stay too close to the fireworks.
  • Most of the injuries during Christmas and New Year revelry are attributed to firecrackers, rockets, and sparklers.
  • Fireworks cause noise pollution.  It creates noise beyond the allowed decibel limit; thus, hurting the ears, causing deafness or tinnitus.
  • People who have health conditions may suffer from the effects of firecracker explosions.  Epileptics are found to be more likely to develop seizures when exposed to its smoke.  The suspended particulate matter (SPM) can irritate the throat, nose and eyes that may eventually lead to serious health problems.  People with heart problems, respiratory tract condition, and nervous system disorder may be severely affected by the chemicals released by firecrackers.
  • Firecrackers can ignite clothing, light building materials, and other properties.
  • Many of the manufactured fireworks fail to meet basic quality and safety standards. Therefore, they are highly risky, not to mention illegal.  The recent turnout of raids conducted by the Philippine National Police can prove this.
  • Production of fireworks can also claim lives of the workers.  Studies have shown that the  mortality rate of gunpowder explosions in factory accidents remain high.
  • Fireworks also affect animals and wildlife. Just as it is detrimental to human health, explosive fireworks do cause immense fear and stress among animals.
  • Aside from affecting humans and animals, fireworks also causes air, water, and land pollution. As a pyrotechnic explodes, it releases poisonous particles into the air that eventually contaminates the water systems.  It is even a contributing factor to acid rains.
  • It damages the ozone layer.
  • There were even incidents where fireworks started grass and forest fires.

Another sad fact, most firecracker factories employ child laborers, which is against the law. Besides, at their tender age, they are exposed to toxic substances, making them vulnerable to diseases.

My question is: do we really need to use firecrackers for merrymaking? Can we not welcome Christmas and New Year without those firecrackers?  Or, is it rightful to ban firecrackers altogether?  The decision is ours, citizens of the world!  It is unfair to blame the government for not having curbed the use of firecrackers.  Discipline should rather start from each one of us.

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